October is designated Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but breast health is a year round concern. Although most breast health information comes in the Fall. Any time is the right time for women to take stock and get into the routine of performing a breast self exam. The American Cancer Society recommends that all women begin monthly breast self exams at age 20. The exam should be done at the same time in each woman’s cycle.
How to Do a Breast Self Exam
It is easiest to do a breast self exam in the shower when you are wet and soapy. Raise one arm straight over your head. Use the three middle fingers of your other hand to move up and down from your collar bone to the bottom of the breast. Use three different pressures: light pressure will feel lumps near the surface and firmer, then firmer pressure will feel further inside the breast. Be sure to feel the area of the nipple and to push the nipple down in the middle. When you have dried off, look for any discharge.
You can also lie down and raise one arm over your head. Start at 12:00 on the circle and work around the outside of the breast. Then move in an inch and continue doing circles until you reach the nipple.
Regardless of which method you choose, be sure to include the armpits.
Unless you have a family history or other cause for caution, most physicians recommend an annual mammogram beginning at age 40. You can now opt for a 3D mammogram which shows issues more clearly. Don’t rely on mammograms alone for diagnosis. 40% of breast cancer is found through self exams.
If you discover a lump, see your doctor as soon as possible. There are many reasons for lumps other than cancer, so it is important for a medical professional to make the proper diagnosis.
Editor’s Note: We originally published this article in October 2013. We have edited it for accuracy, freshness and comprehensiveness.