It is common for a woman to be asked at her check-up, “Have you been performing self breast exams?” and handed a pamphlet of information whether her answer is yes or no. However, how many of you actually read the pamphlet before throwing it away with your junk mail, thinking you already know the information? How many of you are actually performing monthly self breast exams and why are they important?
The Importance of Self Breast Exams
October being Breast Cancer Awareness month. Let’s talk about the importance of self breast exams and how to perform them. Approximately 12% of women in the US will develop an invasive breast cancer in their lifetime. The risk increases if you have a first degree relative (a mother, sister, or daughter) who has been diagnosed. Self breast exams are an important way to detect changes in your breasts from month to month. They will allow you to have an informed conversation with your doctor if any changes are recognized during your check-ups.
How Often Should Self Breast Exams Be Performed?
Self breast exams should be performed monthly after your period ends (when your breasts are least swollen and tender). If you are no longer having periods, pick a date each month that is easy for you to remember. You should both feel and look thoroughly for changes in breast tissue. Lumps, dimples, redness, nipple changes, etc. can all be things to look for. If you notice any changes, it is important to call your physician so they can do an examination, but you should not panic! Breastcancer.org and nationalbreastcancer.org report that 8 out of 10 suspicious lumps are not diagnosed as breast cancer. The most important part of a self breast exam is recognizing your normal baseline so if changes arise, you catch them early.
How To Perform a Self Breast Exam
Start by simply looking visually for differences. You can begin by looking in a mirror with your hands on your hips and then raising your hands above your head. Notice any differences from side to side of your breast tissue, any dimpling or color differences. You can write these down so you have a documented reference from month to month.
Next, laying down, use the pads of your fingers to feel your tissue all the way from your armpit to your cleavage and from your collarbone to your upper abdomen. You should apply firm but gentle pressure and move in a small circular pattern. Make sure to cover the entire area of your breast tissue. You should then repeat the same motions checking your breasts while standing.
There are many great resources on self breast exams. For further information, check out the reference links at the end of this blog.
If you perform a self breast exam and have any concerns or questions, you should contact your physician for a follow-up. If you have a history of breast cancer and currently deal with mobility limitations, chest pain, or pelvic pain, a pelvic floor physical therapist may be able to help.
Jessie McGown, PT, DPT