Easy Steps to Breast Self-Awareness

bra strapContributed by Jaime D. Lewis, MD, Assistant Professor of Surgery

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. During this month, the importance of early detection of breast cancer is highly stressed. Mammograms and clinical exams are the best screening tools for breast cancer but there’s another test that can be done in the comfort of your home.

Monthly breast self-exams may lead to early detection of breast cancer. Many women are uncomfortable performing these exams because they don’t know how and believe that they won’t find anything abnormal. Once it becomes a habit and you familiarize yourself with how your breasts normally look and feel, breast changes may become quite easy to find.

Before you start breast self-exams, it’s important to know the structure of your breasts. The upper, outer area – toward the armpit – may have the most noticeable lumps or bumps. The lower half can feel “sandy” while the area under the nipple can feel “grainy.” Remember, breasts vary from woman to woman so yours may not feel this exact way.

Once you familiarize yourself with how your breast feels, start performing the breast self-exams. This is best done in a three-step process – in the shower, in front of a mirror, and lying down.

  • In the shower – using your fingers, move around the entire breast in a circular pattern moving from outside to center, checking the entire breast and armpit area for any lumps, thickening, or knots.
  • In front of a mirror – look at your breasts. With your arms at your sides, take a good look at your breasts and then raise your arms and complete another visual inspection. You’re looking for any changes in the outline of the breast, swelling, dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples. Don’t worry if you notice that your breasts don’t match in size – that’s perfectly normal.
  • While lying down – complete a similar exam as you did in the shower. Place a pillow under your shoulder and place the same side arm behind your head. Using the opposite hand, move your fingers around the breast in a small circular motion covering the entire breast area and armpit. Squeeze the nipple; check for discharge and lumps. Repeat these steps for the other breast but move the pillow to the opposite shoulder and raise the opposite arm.

Knowledge of your own body is often your most powerful tool in the early detection of breast cancer. During your monthly breast selfexams, if you find any abnormality, don’t panic. Congratulate yourself for being aware and schedule an appointment with a doctor. At UC Health’s Women’s Center, we provide comprehensive breast care from evaluation to diagnosis and treatment.

To schedule an appointment for your annual mammogram or with one of our providers for routine exams or any concerns, call (513) 475-UC4U (8248).

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