Breast Health-Self Exam

The most common cancer in women is breast cancer. The best chances for treatment and survival are when the cancer is detected as early as possible. While most women know that mammograms become a part of life after forty, a mammogram will not detect cancer in its earliest stages. You can detect suspicious lumps by performing monthly self breast exams. If that is not motivation enough for you to perform self breast exams, here are a few statistics that we all need to be aware of.

  • The National Cancer Institute has estimated that based on current rates, over 12.5% of women born today will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives.
  • Due to the fact that breast cancer increases with age, estimates of risk at certain ages are more meaningful, than estimates for a lifetime.
  • An estimated risk is the average risk for all women in the US of a certain age group. This doesn't take into consideration anything else, only sex and age.
  • Estimated lifetime risk of breast cancer has been on the rise for several decades and this year it declined only slightly.

What plays a part in the slight decline is awareness and prevention. Doing self breast exams helps to increase the likelihood of you finding a lump that should be checked out to make sure that it is not cancerous. It is important that you know what your breast feels like normally so that you know what shouldn't be there. You should also know what your breast looks like, nipple and all. Subtle changes in these areas could signify a problem. Please note that when you are examining your breast that the area to be examined also extends up under the arm.

If you are still menstruating, it is advised that you wait two to three days after your period to do the self exam so that your breasts are less likely to be swollen and tender.

If you are no longer menstruating, pick a day of the week that it is easiest for you to remember and do the self exam on that same day every month. If you are taking birth control pills, make sure that do the self exam the day you start a new pack of pills.

There isn't only one right way to do a breast self exam. You can use a circular method that either starts under the arm or at the nipple and you move in a circular motion all the way around with the fingers of the opposite hand, never lifting your fingers off your skin. It is a continuous motion. There is also the wheel spoke method which you start at the nipple and work your way up, over, down until you have covered all the breast area. The point is that you need to be consistent with the method that you are using.

You should perform the self exam standing up and lying down, using the same technique. Lumps in the lower breast area will be felt while you are lying down, and lumps in the upper breast area will be easier felt when standing. Your self exam should also incorporate a visual exam; notice any nipple change, if the nipple is inverted or puckered, or if there is a color change. If you notice any of these, call your doctor.

It is important that you perform monthly self breast exams to help save your life and improve your chances of survival with early detection.

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