Look Out for Yourself: Self-Examine Your Breasts

Inthe month of October, many people usually think of pumpkin spice and spooky season activities, however, there is another important issue to be aware of this month: breast cancer. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, an annual and global campaign to help increase recognition of the disease. According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the second leading cause of death in women and approximately 268,600 new diagnoses will be made for women this year in the U.S. alone.

 

In an effort to help detect breast cancer sooner, organizations, such as the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc., advise that women, and even men,  do monthly self-exams. This is not the only exam you should do however, this just helps familiarize yourself with your breasts so that you are able to notice when there are abnormalities. In the case that you notice anything abnormal, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor for further professional evaluation. Otherwise, it is recommended by the American Cancer Society that women who are at average risk of breast cancer start to get mammograms at 45 years of age. From there, you should get annual mammograms from the next ten years, then get one every other year after that.

 

Below are the guidelines provided by organizations, such as the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. and the Breast Cancer Org., that explain how one should perform a self-exam on their breasts.

1. In the Mirror

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The first step is to look at your breasts in a mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms at your hips. During this time, you should be looking out for breasts that are unusual in their size, shape, and color. You should also be looking for breasts that are evenly shaped without noticeable distortion or swelling. Additionally, common changes to keep an eye on are: dimpling, puckering, or bulging of the skin, a nipple that has changed position or an inverted nipple (the nipple is going inward instead of sticking out), and any redness, soreness, or swelling. If you see any of these signs or changes, please communicate it to your doctor so the proper measures can be taken.

2. Raise Your Arms

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The next step requires that you raise each of your arms and look for the same changes and abnormalities listed in step 1. Using the pads of your fingers, do a circular pattern as you move around your breasts from the outside to the center, make sure to check around your underarm area as well. This step is recommended to do while in the shower or once you step out of the shower as wet skin makes it easier to slide your fingers across the breasts and chest area. Abnormalities are also easier to feel, but doing it on dry skin is just as helpful. While doing this part of the exam, be sure to look out for any fluid coming out of one or both nipples; the fluid can be milky, watery, yellow, or bloody. Again, if you notice any of these changes please communicate it to your doctor.

3. Lie Down

(Photo by Artyom Kim on Unsplash)

In this next step, you should lie down and place a pillow under the shoulder of the side you will exam first and put that arm behind your head. Then, with your other hand move the pads of your fingers around the breast you are examining in small circular motions; be sure to check your underarms, up to your collarbones, and just above your abdomen area. You should use light, medium, and firm pressure as well as squeeze your nipple and check for any discharge or lumps. You can also use the up and down vertical motion, some women find this to work best for them. Then, repeat these steps for your other breast.

 

Doing a self-exam on our breasts can be awkward or uncomfortable, however, it is something that is necessary and extremely helpful. Just know that you are not alone; women all around the world do this each month. Also, it is important to note that not all lumps are cancerous, many turn out to be benign. Nonetheless, if you notice any changes or lumps that are new or cause concern, always get in contact with your doctor. Additionally, never be afraid to ask your doctor questions about your results and if you are not comfortable with their advice, seek a second opinion. Finally, encourage your friends and family members to do self-exams as well, you could possibly save a life.