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How-To Do a Breast Cancer Self-Examination at Home

How often should I be checking myself for breast cancer?

Once a month is good. If you have previously been diagnosed with breast cancer, or have hereditary factors, your physician may advise you to do a self-examination twice per month. It only takes a few minutes to complete a self-evaluation at home. Breast cancer self examination FAQ 1

What are the early warning signs of breast cancer?

A lump or mass that feels abnormal in the breast is one sign, but discharge from the breast is often the earliest sign of the presence of breast cancer cells. Breast cancer self examination FAQ 2b

What happens if I find a mass or lump in my breast?

Talk to your physician as soon as possible. Scanning will determine the presence of breast cancer and a needle biopsy for cysts or a tissue mass may also be ordered by your physician to test for cancer cells. Breast cancer self examination FAQ 3

October is breast cancer awareness month and an excellent opportunity to learn more about prevention.  And learn more about the symptoms and early warning signs of breast cancer.  Because early detection and intervention save lives.

You have probably heard that conducting regular self-examinations for breast cancer is essential.  It sounds pretty straightforward, right?  You will apply pressure to the breast area and search for any abnormalities.  A lump or bump is what women (and men) are instructed to look for.

But everyone needs to be aware of many other signs of breast cancer.  Sometimes, there is no bump at all.  Or depending on the density of the breast area and fat, bumps in breast tissue can be hard to detect manually. And only apparent when the patient gets a mammogram. 

There is a method that provides the most thorough examination for breast cancer.  Doing your self-examination the right way matters because it can provide the best early warning of a potential problem. 

In this article, we’re going to talk about how to conduct a breast cancer self-examination in just a few minutes.  And we’ll also discuss how often you should be doing this important self-exam and what to do if you find something you are concerned about. 

How Often Should You Do a Self-Examination for Breast Cancer?

If you have never been diagnosed with breast cancer, once a month is a good routine to follow.  However, if you are in remission or have had close family members who were diagnosed with breast cancer, you may want to check twice a month.

It takes some for tissue mass to develop.  Most physicians recommend a once-per-month self-examination for best practice and early detection. But if you have found a lump or mass that concerns you, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician as soon as possible for diagnostic testing. 

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Why Do Doctors Recommend Doing a Self-Examination in the Shower?

The best method of self-screening for breast cancer is in a circular pattern around the area.  Some pressure is applied to help identify the development of any abnormal tissues.  And using a gliding motion, men and women can ensure that they are completing a pattern that does not miss any areas.

So, why do doctors recommend completing the exam in the shower?  You can apply some body wash to your chest area, which will act like massage oil or lubricant.  That will allow your fingers to move smoothly and easily.  And according to many physicians, it is easier to detect normal glands versus abnormal cysts that may indicate breast cancer. 

What is the Best Time of the Month to do a Breast Examination?

For women, it is best to conduct a breast cancer self-examination when you are not menstruating.  There are a couple of reasons to wait until the end of your cycle.  First, during menses, female breasts can feel swollen and painful.  That might not be the best time to put manual pressure on areas feeling more tender.

One of the other reasons to time your breast cancer self-examination is swollen glands. The breast tenderness you may feel during your cycle is due to swollen glands and tissues.  And that can make finding a bump or lump more difficult. Physicians recommend doing a self-examination about a week after the menstrual cycle.  

Visual examination of your breasts is also an important (and often missed) step in self-evaluation. Place your hands on your hips and look at your breasts in the mirror.  Are there any noticeable changes? Look for new dimples or puckers, which may indicate the presence of cancer cells.  And remember, it is common for women to have breasts that are not exactly the same size.  So don’t be concerned unless you see a change in density or the surface area of one or both breasts. 

How To Do a Breast Cancer Self-Examination 

There are a few basic steps and hands-on approaches to doing a breast cancer self-examination the right way because the goal of following the approved method is to make sure that you are searching the entire area of each breast, without missing anything.

Check out this tutorial provided by breast cancer advocacy group “The Breasties” featured on Good Morning America. 

There are other areas around the breast that can also develop cancer.  And often, these areas are not frequently checked during at-home self-examinations.   Metastatic breast cancer is an advanced condition, where cancer has spread to other areas of the body.

Pay close attention to swelling or lumps in your collarbone and armpit areas.  These are locations where you have lymph nodes that may be swollen due to metastatic breast cancer. If you cannot feel a lump or mass in your breasts, but there are changes in your collarbone and armpit zones, schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. 

Two Types of Lumps and Visible Changes: When to Talk to Your Doctor

If you have detected a lump in your breast, do not panic.  There are many common reasons why your body may develop a tissue mass.  And in most cases, the tissue is benign, or non-cancerous. 

The first thing you may detect is a cyst.  And basically, cysts are harmless little fluid-filled sacs that don’t cause many problems.  They can swell up or recede, and are generally not removed or surgically drained unless they are causing discomfort. 

The second type of mass you may feel in your breast is called a fibroadenoma.  This can feel like a hard bump under the skin and is more commonly found in younger men and women.  

Fibroadenomas can be non-cancerous.  But if the mass is growing rapidly, patients may need surgery to have it removed. Imaging (mammogram) may be required to track the size and growth of a fibroadenoma.  And help your physician determine whether it could be a risk.

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Checking Other Areas for Warning Signs of Breast Cancer

In some cases, the presence of breast cancer may not be evident in a cyst, or fibroadenoma. The cancer cells may develop in and around the nipple area.  Things to watch out for are an indented nipple (which may indicate cancerous tissues).  Or any kind of discharge from the nipple (ND).

In fact, nipple discharge (ND) may be one of the earliest symptoms of breast cancer.  A whitish-colored discharge may contain pleomorphic cells, which are highly malignant. The discharge can be easily tested to determine the presence of cancer cells. 

Know Your Body for Early Detection

When you get into the habit of monthly self-examinations, you are helping to improve your odds of early detection.  But over time, you will also get a sense of where your glands are, and what feels “normal” for your breasts.  And if there is an abnormality, you will be able to detect it quickly and talk to your doctor. 

Women with a family history of breast cancer can start routine self-examinations monthly after the age of thirty. More treatment plans are available for patients who detect breast cancer in the early stages. And those treatments are also less invasive and can include prescription drug therapy and surgery to remove cancer cells. 

If you do find an abnormality, don’t wait. Schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible for an assessment. Check with your health insurance provider, as routine annual mammograms are often included at no charge for men and women, over the age of forty.