You've heard it from friends, doctors and probably even seen posters and ads recommending mammograms for early breast cancer detection and screening - but what about BSE's - breast self-exams?
Well, after doing a little digging we found that most cancer researchers agree that a breast self-examination (BSE), a technique that allows a woman to examine her breast tissue for any physical or visual changes, should be done monthly beginning around the age of 18.
“Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important.” National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc.
The idea behind these monthly checks is for you to "get to know" your breasts, making it more likely to detect any changes...makes sense!
Here are a few Self-Exam Tips courtesy of breastcancer.org.
- Make A Routine: The more you examine your breasts, the more you will be able to tell if there has been a change. Get in the habit of doing a self-examination at least once a month. It is best to examine after your period is over as they are likely to be tender and swollen during those days. If you no longer have periods, choose a day that will be easy to remember. For example the first day of the month, or the last day of the month.
- Know the Different 'Neighborhoods' of your Breasts: Upper, outer, and near your armpit has the most prominent lumps. The lower half of your breast can feel like a sandy or pebbly beach. The area under the nipple can feel like a collection of large grains. Another part might feel like a lumpy bowl of oatmeal.
- Journal: Keep a record of your self-exams in a journal. Especially in the beginning of your self-examination, then you will be able to tell the difference of what is normal and changes in your breasts. It is not unusual for lumps to appear at certain times of the month, but then disappear, as your body changes with the menstrual cycle (if you are still menstruating).
- If You Feel a Lump — Don't Panic: Most women have lumps or lumpy areas in their breasts. most breast lumps turn out to be benign (not cancer).
- Talk to Your Doctor: If you notice a change in your breasts that stands out and it persists for a few weeks, and the change is new and worrisome it is best to contact your doctor right away. But in most cases, only changes that last more than one full menstrual cycle or seem to get bigger or more prominent in some way, need your doctor's attention.
Not sure how to perform a breast self-exam? You're not alone - here are some tips from the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. to make it easier.
1) In the Shower
Using the pads of your fingers, move around your entire breast in a circular pattern moving from the outside to the center, checking the entire breast and armpit area. Check both breasts each month feeling for any lump, thickening, or hardened knot. Notice any changes and get lumps evaluated by your healthcare provider.
2) In Front of a Mirror
Visually inspect your breasts with your arms at your sides. Next, raise your arms high overhead.
Look for any changes in the contour, any swelling, or dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples. Next, rest your palms on your hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles. Left and right breasts will not exactly match—few women's breasts do, so look for any dimpling, puckering, or changes, particularly on one side.
3) Lying Down
When lying down, the breast tissue spreads out evenly along the chest wall. Place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently in small circular motions covering the entire breast area and armpit.
Use light, medium, and firm pressure. Squeeze the nipple; check for discharge and lumps. Repeat these steps for your left breast.
Sources: https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/testing/types/self_exam and https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-self-exam