Learning Ways to Manage Your Health
Why Are Breast Self-Exams Important?

The breast self-exam is a way you can check your breasts for lumps, thickenings or any unusual changes that might be a sign of breast cancer. While not as accurate as a mammogram, breast self-exams can help women notice any changes to their breasts at home and better understand how their breasts normally look and feel. Breast awareness and self-exams can begin in the early 20s. Since about one in eight U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime, breast exams should become a routine part of a woman's life.

How to Perform a Breast Self-Exam:

1. Look at your breasts in a mirror with shoulders straight. Press your hands firmly down on your hips and look for any visible changes (pressing down on the hips contracts the chest muscles and enhances any breast changes).

2. Raise arms to shoulder level - look for any visible changes again

3. Bend forward toward the mirror with hands on hips. Roll shoulders forward. Again, look for any visible changes

4. Lie on your back with one arm over your head. With the opposite arm use your middle three fingers and firmly feel your breast from collarbone to top of your ribcage, armpit to cleavage. The lying-down position spreads breast tissue evenly and as thin as possible over the chest wall, making it easier to feel changes to breast tissue.

5. Repeat with other breast, lift other arm over your head and firmly feel with opposite fingers - collarbone to top of ribcage, armpit to cleavage.

6. Use light to medium pressure near the nipple; firm pressure everywhere else. Some recommend moving in a clockwise circle outward to make sure the whole area is properly covered. The American Cancer Society recommends using an up-and-down pattern to check the breast area, as well.

7. Repeat steps 4-6 while in a standing or sitting position. Some find this easiest to do in the shower when the skin is wet.

8. Breast self-exams should be performed regularly once a month.

Additional Sources:

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