How to perform a self breast examination

All women and girls from the age of around 20 should learn to perform a self breast examination, by getting to know what your breasts feel like, the shape, weight and texture of the skin you will be able to detect if anything feels wrong and this can catch diseases such as breast cancer early. The earlier you catch it the more likely you are to be cured of it, though it is important to note that not all changes to the breast are caused by cancer, there are several other factors which can cause changes most of which are harmless.

Signs to look for

  • The formation of a lump.
  • Any discharge.
  • Any swelling or tenderness not associated with the menstrual cycle.
  • Any irritation to the skin or dimpling.
  • Any abnormalities of the nipple.

Steps to performing a self breast examination

  • Stand in front of a mirror making sure you can see your breasts clearly, look over your breasts for anything that is unusual, things to look for are scaling, puckering, dimpling or redness, also check for discharge from your nipples.
  • Watch yourself in the mirror as you bring your arms up and put them behind your head, pressing your arms forward a little, watch for any changes closely.
  • Still looking in the mirror put your hands on your hips and pull your arms and elbows forward bending slightly towards the mirror, look closely for any changes.
  • Gentle squeeze your nipple between your fingers to check for any signs of discharge as you do.
  • Lie down on your back so that your breasts are spread evenly on the chest, raise one arm above your head and preferably with a pillow or folded towel underneath the other arm. By doing this you are helping to flatten the breast making it easier to check for abnormalities.
  • Using the pads of your fingers lightly run them over your breast and the surrounding area, you might find this easier if you put a little hand lotion onto your hands first to help your fingers glide.
  • Check for anything out of the ordinary such as lumps or masses, be sure to cover the whole of the breast.
  • Special attention should be paid to the side of the breast and the under arm including the armpit.
  • If you are uncomfortable doing this laid down then the check can be made during your shower, some people find this easier when they have soap to help their fingers glide over the breast.

What to do if you find something

Panic will of course be a natural reaction if you should find something, but try to remain as calm as you can, it doesn’t mean the worse and many changes and lumps are often due to something other than breast cancer. If you find a definite lump or puckering, dimpling or nipple discharge then you should however check it out with your doctor to get the all clear and remember 80% of all breast lumps are benign.

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