If you have breasts, you ought to know how to check them for certain health issues. Bumps, lumps, and other mammary changes can indicate a range of things, most of which are not at all dangerous. In the interest of good health for all, we are pleased to present this how-to guide to weekly breast self-examination.
First, know what’s normal for you
Before you can discover changes worth telling your doctor about, you’ve got to know what’s normal for you. Once you’ve done several breast self-exams over the course of many weeks, you will have a better understanding what’s typical for you and what might be an indication of a questionable breast change. If you menstruate, the week leading up to your period may be a tender time for your breasts. You may wish to do any physical checks for bumps and lumps a few days after your period stops. Typically, this is when breasts are least tender, explains Mayo Clinic.
Health experts at Johns Hopkins Medical Library now say that women should practice breast self-awareness at least as much as they perform physical self-examinations. In fact, many OB-GYNs agree that a woman’s day-to-day awareness of her own breasts may be more effective at catching cancer and other health issues than typical breast self-exam, or BSE. You should still know how to do a weekly or monthly self-exam, however.
How to do a visual breast self-exam
Stand nude in front of a wall mirror with your arms at your side and shoulders straight ahead. Note the shape, symmetry, size, and color of your breasts. If one side is always slightly larger than the other, don’t worry about that. It’s perfectly normal, says WebMD. In fact, a good number of women who have not undergone breast augmentation boast beautiful albeit slightly lopsided bosoms.
Now, put your hands on your hips and look again. Bend forward, lean back, and lean from side to side. As long as your breasts appear to be evenly shaped sans swelling, distortion, or unusual color, a little unevenness in size is not a problem.
If a nipple has inverted since last time you looked, make a note and call your doctor. Likewise, if you notice puckering, dimpling, or a rash on one or both breasts. If you are not breastfeeding, your nipples ought not to be leaking anything. If they are, call your gynecologist.
The next step of a BSE involves the same observations as above, only this time take a look with your arms raised above your head. Sometimes, a breast change that is not obvious with arms akimbo can be seen when the hands are raised. Again, if you note any visual changes, contact your healthcare provider.
Feel for lumps and bumps
Now, lie down and use the fingertips of your right hand to physically examine your left breast. Start at the top and move three or four flattened fingers in a small circular motion until you have covered the entire breast surface. Do it again, starting from the side and covering the breast surface from armpit to sternum. Feel all the tissue of one breast, then switch sides and duplicate the exam sequence.
Next, sit or stand upright and do the same top-to-bottom and side-to-side exam of each breast. Many women find it more comfortable to do this part of the exam in a warm shower with plenty of sudsy soap.
To thine own body be true
Although most medical associations no longer recommend BSE as a means to screen for cancer, a day-to-day knowledge of one’s own female body is crucial to maintaining good health. Once you know what’s right for you, slight changes that may be noteworthy will catch your attention. Next time you visit with your Jacksonville OBGYN, ask them what sort of self-exams they recommend.
Most physicians concur that women who watch out for their own physical health tend to fare better than those who take a passive role in their own wellness. If you do find a bump or lump, don’t panic. In most cases, a little change is not a big problem. At the same time, you’ll boost your peace of mind when you make an appointment for a professional health exam.
To live your best life, you’ve got to be proactive about your own good health. Eat well, keep appointments for regular health checkups, and don’t hesitate to ask an expert when you have a health care question.
Daniel Finch is a family physician sharing his advice on all health and medical matters around the internet with his articles.