October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month—so if you have breasts, now’s the time to start getting comfortable feeling them (if you aren’t doing so already). Whether you embrace all the healthy lifestyle recommendations to reduce your risk of breast cancer—like exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking—or not, doing regular breast self-checks is a great idea (recommended for women ages 20 and up, but you can get into the habit earlier).
The tricky thing with cancer is that sometimes there are no symptoms. This is why it’s important to make a breast self-exam part of your monthly self-care routine. When you become familiar with how your breasts normally look and feel, you will be able to detect changes early.
Here’s how to do your monthly breast self-exam:
- Choose a day during the week after your period ends (this is when your breasts are least likely to be tender or swollen). Make sure to have a few minutes so you don’t have to rush through it.
- Examine your breasts in the mirror; first with your hands on your hips and then with your palms together over your head. In both of those positions, look for redness, soreness, rash, or swelling of the breast. Also look at your nipples for inversion and gently squeeze for discharge. As you continue to do this monthly, look for any changes in breast shape, size, or symmetry over time.
- Next, lie down and check for lumps. You’re going to use the pads—not the tips—of your fingers from the hand opposite your breast. Start by placing your fingers just under your collarbone. If you think of your breast as a clock, that would be 12:00. Using moderate pressure move the pads of your fingers in a circular motion, about the size of a quarter. Do this over and over, continuing in a straight line toward your nipple. Start again at the outside of your breast at 1:00, working your way toward the nipple. Do this all the way around until you cover your entire breast. Repeat with your other breast.
- Now you’re going to do the same check for both breasts while standing up. This check may be easier in the shower, when your skin is wet.
What if I feel a lump?
It’s important to know that most women naturally have a few lumps or lumpy areas in their breasts. These can be from hormones, benign breast conditions, or even injury. This is why it’s so important to do this breast self-check monthly so you learn what’s normal for you and are able to notice new and different lumps.
If you feel any lumps or notice changes, don’t panic, because most breast lumps are benign. Be sure to make an appointment with your doctor or medical clinic to get it checked out. This goes for men, too. While male breast cancer is rare, it’s possible; so even though these breast self-checks are for women, you can still keep an eye out for any of these signs or symptoms in yourself.
Remember, don’t just do this in October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month—make it a monthly self-care routine.
Breastcancer.org. (2019). Breast self-exam. Retrieved from https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/testing/types/self_exam
Canadian Cancer Society. (n.d.). Breast cancer in men. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-type/breast/breast-cancer/breast-cancer-in-men/
Cochrane. (2018, October 5). Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Retrieved from https://www.cochrane.org/news/breast-cancer-awareness-month
Medical News Today. (2018, January 7). What you should know about breast cancer in teens. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320533.php
MedLine Plus. (2018, May 22). Breast cancer. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/breastcancer.html
Stanford Children’s Health. (n.d.). How to perform a breast self-examination. Retrieved from https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=how-to-perform-a-breast-self-examination-bse-85-P00135