While many medical establishments advise that you should go for an annual mammogram from the age of 50, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t any risks involved for those who are younger than 50.
And for that reason, at-home breast exams are an absolute must for women of nearly any age. In fact, it’s recommended for women to do an at-home breast exam at least once a month.
Luckily, doing an at-home breast exam is easy, and essentially, life saving. Which is why we’re going to run through a how-to guide on doing a breast self-exam at home.
But first, allow us to answer a few super important questions, and give you a bit more information…
What is an At-Home Breast Exam?
An at-home breast exam is when you check your breasts for any changes, such as lumps or thickenings.
During this exam you’ll feel and look at both breasts, and if you find anything unusual, you should contact your doctor.
Why Are At-Home Breast Exams Important?
If you maintain a regular schedule of doing an at-home breast exam, you could essentially save your life.
This is because you may be able to detect early signs of infection or breast cancer. When breast cancer is detected early, the chances of survival are much better.
And according to the Johns Hopkins Medical Center:
“Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important.”
When is the Best Time to Do an At-Home Breast Exam?
If you’re still menstruating, the best time to do this exam would be when you finish your period.
But for those who are going through the phases of menopause, or those who have irregular periods, you can simply choose one day of every month, keeping consistent to the day, to do your self-exam.
How Long Does it Take to Do an At-Home Breast Exam?
Doing an at-home breast exam need not take up much of your day. In fact, a mere few minutes is all that’s needed to work towards optimal breast health.
What’s also great is that you can do an at-home breast exam during nearly any moment. It simply requires you to have a mirror, and the ability to stand and lay down with your shirt and bra off.
What are Possible Signs of Breast Cancer?
For most, noticing one or two abnormalities could be a sign of breast cancer… but it may also be benign.
If you feel something different in your breast or breasts, it doesn’t automatically mean that you have breast cancer.
Some things that could indicate breast cancer include:
A lump or thickening in or under the breast or underarm area
A change in skin texture (sometimes described as an orange peel texture)
A lump on the breast
A change in size or shape of the breast
Dimpling anywhere on the breast
Swelling of the breast
Shrinking of the breast
A sudden inverted nipple
Scaly, red, or swollen areola
White, clear, or bloody discharge from the nipple
At the same time however, it’s important not to panic if you find one of these symptoms. It’s normal to feel some level of anxiety, but we urge you not to put off visiting your doctor because you’re anxious about the results.
Also, take note that an at-home breast exam isn’t a substitute for a professional mammogram screening, so visiting your healthcare provider is important.
Remember: the earlier breast cancer is detected, the better the chances of a positive outcome.
Regardless, immense anxiety may be unwarranted as our breasts do change over time, so please do visit your doctor for any worrying or different signs or symptoms.
Does the Size of Your Breasts Increase or Decrease Your Chance of Breast Cancer?
While many may believe that those with bigger breasts have a greater risk of getting breast cancer, this is not true. In fact, it has nothing to do with size at all, but rather the density.
In other words, a higher BMI (body mass index) could increase one’s chances of getting breast cancer. This is why it’s advised by many professionals to have a healthy diet and exercise regime.
A How-To Guide on Doing a Breast Exam at Home
As we mentioned, doing an at-home breast exam takes a mere few minutes and requires just one day a month. What’s even better is that it’s super easy to do, and can be done in three easy steps.
Step One: Visual Inspection
Step one involves a visual inspection. Remove your shirt and your bra and stand in front of a mirror with your arms comfortably at your side. Do you see any changes in the shape of your breast? Is there any swelling, dimpling, or irregularities of the nipple?
After this, raise your arms high overhead and do the same inspection again, looking for the same things. Then, put your hands on your hips and press firmly which will make your chest muscles flex. Do another check for the above criteria, and be sure to look at both breasts.
Step Two: Standing Manual Inspection
Step two involves a manual inspection whilst standing. Remove your shirt and bra and use your right hand to examine your left breast, then vice versa.
You can do this by using the pads of your three middle fingers, pressing lightly on every part of the breast. After this, increase the pressure to a medium level, then firm.
Using circular motions is the most effective way in which to check for any lumps or thickening during this manual inspection.
Once you’ve inspected both breasts (including under the areola) move onto your underarm area and press. Lastly, you can squeeze your nipple gently to see if any discharge appears.
Step Three: Lying Manual Inspection
Step three involves the same manual inspection whilst lying down. It’s important not to forget this step because as you lay down, your breast tissue will spread more evenly.
You can do this by putting a pillow under your right shoulder, then placing your right arm behind your head. Use your left hand to do the inspection routine mentioned in step two.
After this, swap the pillow, and check your other breast tissue, armpit and nipple, as instructed in step two.
By following these steps and with this knowledge, we hope that you’ll make doing an at-home breast exam part of your monthly routine. It’s about staying safe, yes, but also, as we mentioned: early detection of breast cancer can literally save your life.