Did you know that doctors recommend that women have professional breast exams at least every six months? While this increases your chances of catching potentially harmful abnormalities, the only way to protect yourself completely is to perform self-breast examinations at home as well.
Monthly self-breast exams may be the only way to rapidly detect these changes. Statistics show that more than 40 percent of women initially find a lump themselves at home. The earlier breast cancer is detected, the more likely the cancer is curable. So, make this ritual a solid part of your health routine.
Let’s get comfortable with our individual female anatomy, practice our body positivity, and dive into the best breast self-examination techniques.
Some breast irregularities may be normal during certain times of your menstrual cycle, so it’s best to perform your self-breast exam the fifth day after starting your period. This is when breast tissue is the least affected by menstrual hormone fluctuations. If you do not have a cycle, choose one consistent date on your calendar to remember each month.
In front of a mirror, lying down on a bed or couch, and in the shower. If you don’t have time to perform all three exams, do what you have time to do.
Do everything in threes: three-part examination for breast detection success (visual, tactile 1, tactile 2), three positions to visualize your breasts, three fingers for best palpation, and three areas to fully cover (armpit, breast, and nipple).
You need a standing or hanging mirror. Stand or sit in a way that allows you to see your entire chest area and start a comparison game.
Although no two breasts are perfectly symmetrical in size and shape, obvious, one-sided differences could be signs of something serious. One lump, one inverted nipple, one indentation, one abnormal orange peel-like lesion on the surface, and one asymmetric nipple are all signs of breast cancer. Really take a good look, scanning the entire area from armpit to armpit.
Stand in these three positions to complete the exam:
Upright with arms down
Hands on hips, leaning slightly forward
Both arms raised
Each position exposes various anatomical elements. For example, you will see lumps on the lower aspect of the breast with arms raised and abnormal skin indentations by leaning forward. Each position only takes a few seconds.
Tactile Exam 1
You need a table, sofa, or bed where you can lie down comfortably and place your arm above your head. Use your first three fingers to palpate in a circular motion on the outside of the breast tissue at the armpit and travel all the way to the innermost part of the nipple. Glide your fingers over the entire area in a bullseye pattern, feeling for anything inconsistent.
Key tips: Always slide across the tissue without picking up your hands, and touch every bit of the skin’s surface. When you reach the nipple, feel underneath its surface by palpating to the side of the pigmented area while pushing up slightly.
Feel for any lumps or bumps. Cancer typically feels like a hard mass resembling a pea, marble, or walnut, as opposed to the softer feel of normal breast tissue. If you feel a tender lesion, it may be a normal finding, as cancerous lesions are usually not tender. Any lump, though, should be reported to a physician.
If you feel a texture similar to ropes in varying areas of the breast that changes size throughout the month, it may be a condition known as fibrocystic breast disease. Fibrocystic breast disease is a benign condition that causes ovarian hormones to induce inflammatory breast changes.
These lumps and changes become more apparent and tender directly before your period. Any additional external exposure to sex and steroid hormones, such as the exogenous hormones in cow’s dairy milk and non-organic meats, may worsen this condition. If you suspect you have fibrocystic breasts, you can try vegan milk made from almonds or oats as an alternative.
Next, it’s important to look for nipple discharge by gently squeezing the areola (pigmented area around the nipple) and the nipple. Discharge, especially from only one nipple, can be a sign of a less common type of breast cancer. Do not be alarmed too quickly if you express a liquid; there are many reasons for nipple discharge, but you should report the findings to your health provider.
Key tip: Unlike a lot of other diseases, breast cancer typically is not painful. If you find a hard, distinct lump, it is less likely to be painful to touch if malignant.
Tactile Exam 2 (Shower Glide)
This step of the exam is a bonus step included in the most critical self-breast examination. Most women discover lesions without the additional shower exam, but this makes your chances of finding any abnormality even better.
Use a body soap to make your skin surface slippery and repeat the palpation done in the first tactile exam with your eyes closed. With less surface friction, you may find it easier for your fingers to glide along the tissue, which may accentuate the difference between the smooth breast tissue and any newer, smaller lumps. This is taking that little extra step in self-care that really requires almost no extra energy but still provides major health benefits.
Make It Stick
Every time you complete an exam, be proud of yourself for being a self-care rockstar. Healthy habits that become routine for six months or more are a proven method for achieving successful, long-term lifestyle transformations.