But self breast exams are scary...
Don't approach your exam with fear and dread. Instead of viewing your breast exam as if you're "feeling for cancer," view it as becoming an expert in your own breast health.
Here are six tips to perform a good self breast exam:
- Perform your exam two to three days after your menstrual cycle ends since your breasts are the least tender at that time. If your menstrual cycle is irregular, or if you have stopped menstruating due to menopause or a hysterectomy, choose the same day each month for your exam.
- Begin your exam with a visual inspection. Remove your clothes above the waist and stand in front of a mirror. Look at your breasts from the front and each side. Look for any changes in the skin, shape, color or size of your breasts and nipples.
- Use your right hand to examine your left breast and your left hand to examine your right breast.
- Perform your exam while lying down. Lying down spreads your breasts evenly over your chest and makes it easier to feel lumps or changes. Check your entire breast. Begin at the hollow of the armpit, straight down to the bra-line, across to the breastbone, up the breastbone and then across the collarbone ending at the starting point.
- Use the pads of your three middle fingers - not your fingertips. The pads are the most sensitive part of the fingers and can detect masses as small as three millimeters. This is the equivalent of an eighth of an inch or three grains of sugar. Make dime-sized circles going in the same direction.
- As you make dime-sized circles, use three different levels of pressure to feel all of your breast tissue. The first circle will be light pressure. The next circle will be slightly more firm. The last circle will be firm pressure designed to feel tissue as close to the ribs as possible. Using different pressures during the exam is important because breast masses can occur anywhere within the tissue.
In addition to examining your breasts while lying down, you may also check them while in the shower.
After you know that your breasts normally look and feel like, any changes you discover should be checked by a doctor. Remember not all breast problems or changes are caused by cancer, but be safe and talk to a doctor.