Get to know your breasts this October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is necessary to find out what is normal for your breasts to identify when something abnormal occurs.

What is a breast self-examination?
A breast self-examination is a way for you to check your breasts for any abnormal or new changes. It can be a crucial way to find cancer early-on when it’s more likely to be treated successfully. It is important to look at and feel both breasts for abnormalities such as lumps or areas of dense and thick tissue. In many cases, these changes aren’t related to cancer, but it is important to contact your doctor to find out. This method is a screening tool and should be done along with seeing your doctor regularly.

How do I conduct the visual examination?
Stand in front of a mirror with both arms relaxed and down at your sides. Look for any changes in size, shape, skin changes (redness, rashes), swelling, soreness, or positioning of the breasts. Look for things such as discolorations, dimpling, puckering, or bulging of the skin. Then, check the nipples for sores, peeling, or change in their direction. Next, follow the same process with both of your arms straight above your head. Pay attention for any fluid discharge.

How do I conduct the palpation part of the examination?
You want to feel your breasts while lying down. Use your left hand to feel the right breast and the right hand to feel the left breast. With a firm touch, use the pads of your fingers while laying them flat against the skin. Palpate in small circular motions until you’ve examined the entire breast area, which includes the collarbone to the armpit, to the cleavage. You can choose the pattern that works best for you. Be sure to be consistent with each examination.

What should I do if I find a lump or see any unusual changes?
If you feel a lump or see any changes, don’t panic. Call your doctor to schedule an appointment to address your concerns. The best healthcare provider to call is the one who knows you and has previously conducted a breast examination on you. Make sure you get answers. It is crucial your doctor explain the cause of the changes you are seeing. A treatment plan may include monitoring and treating the issue. Never hesitate to get a second opinion.

Make self-examination a routine for yourself. Do an exam once per month so you will know the normal state of your breasts. Start a journal and record your findings.

By Dr. Nirali Patel