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How To Perform A Self Breast Exam

Filed Under: Ask The ND,Men's Health,Personal Care,Women's Health at 5:08 am | By: Dr. Jeremy Wolf, ND & Lead Wellness Advisor
close up of african woman in t-shirt with breast cancer awareness ribbon over white background

With breast cancer awareness month starting October 1st pretty soon we will start seeing shades of pink everywhere we look. However, we must also not forget about the color blue, as breast cancer can affect men as well. Lucky Vitamin wanted to raise awareness this month by talking about the importance and proper ways to perform a Breast Self Exam (BSE). Both women and men should be performing routine monthly BSE’s. Early detection remains the primary defense available to patients in preventing the development of life threatening breast cancer.


Importance Of Performing An Exam

The breast self-exam is not used as a screening tool to diagnose cancer, however women & men starting at the age of 20 should begin to become familiar with the way their breast look and feel normally. This is important so that they can note any changes to their breasts early on. Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important. Although women or men may find a lump while lathering up in the shower, or have a dimple pointed out by their significant other it is important to know how your breasts look and feel usually. The BSE is a great tool for developing that “baseline” and establishing what lumps and bumps are normal.Make sure to always alert your health care provider immediately if you note any changes.


Some Helpful Breast Cancer Statistics

  • About 1 in 8 US. Women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her life.
  • About 2,240 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed in men in 2013. A man’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000. However if they have a BRCA-2 mutation that lifetime risk increases to 6%.
  • In 2013, an estimated 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among women, as well as an estimated 64,640 additional cases of non-invasive breast cancer
  • About 85% of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of breast cancer.
  • In 2013, approximately 39,620 women are expected to die from breast cancer and it is estimated that about 410 men will also die.


What To Look For When Performing The Exam

  • A lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area.
  • Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
  • Change in size or shape of the breast
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • Itchy, scaly sore, or rash on the nipple
  • Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
  • Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
  • New pain in one spot that doesn’t go away.


Best Time To Perform A Breast Self Exam

  • If you still menstruate, the best time to do BSE is when your breasts are least likely to be tender or swollen, such as 3-5 days after your period ends
  • If you no longer menstruate, or are a male, pick a certain day—such as the first day of each month—this will help you to remind yourself to perform your BSE


How To Perform The Exam

  • In front of a mirror
    • Step 1: Begin by standing in front of a mirror with your arms at your side and visually inspect each breast. With your hands on your hips tighten your chest muscles and continue to inspect yourself. Watch for any changes such as dimpling, swelling and areas around the nipple or if the nipple becomes inverted. Raise your arms above your head and continue to examine your breast and arm pit areas.
    • Step 2: If feeling the right breast, bend your right arm behind your head as if reaching for the opposite shoulder blade (switch to do the left breast). Move around the breast in a circular motion with the pads of your first three fingers. You can perform this in either an up and down method, a circular or a wedge pattern, but try to be consistent using the same method each time. In addition, check the nipple area for any discharge. Make sure to complete on both breasts.
  • In the Shower:
    • Using the pads of your fingers, move around your entire breast in a circular pattern moving from the outside to the center, checking the entire breast and armpit area. Check both breasts each month feeling for any lump, thickening, or hardened knot. Notice any changes and get lumps evaluated by your healthcare provider.
  • Lying Down:
    • In addition to standing or in the shower, you can also examine your breasts lying down. To do so, place a pillow under your right shoulder and bend your right arm over your head. Then, with the fingertips on your left hand, begin checking by pressing all areas of the breast and armpit. Once completed on the right, move the pillow to under your left shoulder and repeat the same process.


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