October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and one of the key factors in fighting this disease is detecting it early. The truth is, breast cancer isn’t just found in older women. According to the Young Survival Coalition, it’s estimated that more than 250,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40 or younger are living in the U.S. today. Just this year, over 13,000 young women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. This might sound scary, but the best way to counter this fear is with breast self-exams. Most of us have probably heard of the concept before, but few of us actually make the time to try.
Self-exams are easy to do and they can save lives. Before you start, it's worth noting that there is an optimal time of the month to do a self-exam. Mayo Clinic suggests choosing a time during your menstrual cycle when your breasts are the least tender. So for most of us, this will mean a few days after your period is over. Once you're ready to go, here’s a fast and simple step-by-step guide, adapted from BreastCancer.org. If you're confused by anything, be sure and ask for a live demonstration from your doctor or your school's health clinic.
First, stand in front of a mirror with your shoulders back, hands on your hips and make sure everything looks normal. You should make sure that your breasts are their usual size, shape and color, without any distortions or swelling. If you see anything that looks different, such as dimpling, puckering, bulging of the skin, redness, soreness, rash or swelling, make an appointment with a doctor.
The next step is to simply raise your arms above your head and make the same observations in the mirror.
In the same position as step two, make sure you also check for any fluids. Fluid (watery, milky, yellow fluids or even blood) coming out of the nipples is a common symptom of a tumor.
Next, lie down on your back and use your right hand to feel your left breast and then your left hand to feel your right breast. Make sure you use firm pressure, ideally with your index and middle fingers, and move in a circular motion. Follow a specific pattern and make sure you feeling down deep into the tissue. The deeper the tissue, the more intense the pressure should be. In certain parts you should be able to feel all the way down to your ribcage.
For the last step, feel your breasts over again while you’re standing or sitting. A lot of women find that it’s easiest to do this step when their skin is wet, so try doing this one in the shower. Make sure you’re covering your entire breast and using the same motions that we described in step four.
That’s it! Like we said, a five-minute self-exam is super easy to do and it really can save a life. So make time for one today, and don’t forget to share this with a friend. For more information, check out Breastcancer.org.