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Breast self-exam facts
- A breast self-exam is a woman's examination of her breasts for any changes or abnormalities.
- Although some women prefer to do breast self-exams, their value in detecting early cancers and in saving lives from breast cancer is controversial. For this reason, many medical organizations do not specifically recommend that women do breast self-exams.
- Mammography is the best way to detect early breast cancers.
- Breast self-exam is an option for women who choose to perform this exam.
- Breast self-exam involves looking for both changes in appearance and changes in feel of the breasts.
- Any changes noticed on breast self-exam should be discussed with a doctor. Most breast lumps are benign (are not cancerous).
What is a breast self-exam?
A breast self-exam is a woman's examination of her own breasts. Breast self-exams were formerly encouraged to help women detect breast cancer, but experts and medical organizations do not agree about whether this is necessary or helps save lives. Many women feel comfortable doing breast self-exams as a way to monitor their own health.
Is a breast self-exam necessary?
As mentioned, agencies that issue health practice guidelines do not agree on whether doing breast self-exams are helpful in terms of cancer detection or saving lives from cancer. The best way to detect breast cancer is by having regular mammograms combined with a breast examination by a health care professional.
According to the American Cancer Society, breast self exam is an option for women starting in their 20s, but women should be informed about the limitations as well as the benefits of this practice. According to the ACS, "Research has shown that BSE plays a small role in finding breast cancer compared with finding a breast lump by chance or simply being aware of what is normal for each woman."
Quick GuideBreast Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment
How should one do a breast self-exam?
If you choose to do breast self-exams, your doctor can help show you the best technique. Many women find it convenient to do the exam while bathing or showering. The best time to do the exam is 3 to 5 days after the start of the menstrual period, since the breasts are not as tender or lumpy at this time of the cycle. Women who no longer have menstrual periods should do the exam about the same time each month.
Part of a breast self-exam involves examination of the appearance of the breasts in a mirror. For this step, it is best to stand in front of a mirror and examine your breasts in different positions: with your arms relaxed by your side, with your hands pressed down on your hips, leaning forward with chest muscles tightened, and with hands behind the head and chest muscles tightened. Turning from side to side may be helpful to view all angles. Look for any changes like sores on the skin, dimpling or puckering of the skin, or changes in skin color. Look for discharge or changes in the skin of the nipple areas, as well. Don't forget to examine the skin underneath the breasts.
Next, use the flat part of the fingers to feel your breasts, following an up and down or circular motion until you have examined all breast tissue from collarbone to the lower border of the breasts. Examine the armpit areas too since these may contain breast tissue. Look for lumps or irregularities in density or any changes since your last exam. Feel beneath the nipple for any changes. It's best to do this both standing (with your hand on your hip; use the opposite hand to do the exam) and while lying down.
What if I find a lump or abnormality on my breast self-exam?
See your doctor if you find any abnormality or unexplained change in your breasts. Most breast lumps are benign (non-cancerous), but it is important to have your doctor evaluate any changes you observe during the breast self-exam.
Women's Health Resources
American Cancer Society. Breast Cancer Detection.
Top Breast Self Exam Related Articles
Breast AnatomyThe breast, or mammary gland is made up of lobules, milk producing glands, and a system of ducts to transport milk. Both males and females have breasts. Abnormal enlargement of breasts in men is referred to as gynecomastia. In women, during pregnancy the breasts grow larger and produce milk. Common medical conditions that affect the breasts include breast cancer, breast lumps, fibrocystic changes and cysts, mastitis, and benign tumors (fibroadenomas).
Breast Cancer (Facts, Stages)Breast cancer is an invasive tumor that develops in the mammary gland. Breast cancer is detected via mammograms, breast self-examination (BSE), biopsy, and specialized testing on breast cancer tissue. Treatment of breast cancer may involve surgery, radiation, hormone therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy. Breast cancer risk may be lowered by managing controllable risk factors.
Breast Cancer SlidesLearn about breast cancer causes, symptoms, tests, recovery, and prevention. Discover the types of treatments such as surgery and drug therapies as well as the survival rate for breast cancer.
Breast Cancer PreventionLifestyle changes, a healthy antioxidant-rich diet, exercise, and weight reduction can help reduce a woman's risk of developing breast cancer. It's important to be aware of how risk factors such as family history, lifestyle factors, breast conditions, radiation therapy, and hormonal factors may influence your chances of developing breast cancer. Mammography and breast self-examinations are crucial steps in breast cancer prevention.
Breast Lumps In WomenBreast lumps in women can have a variety of causes such as breast inflammation, infection, injuries, cancer, and non-cancerous growths. Breast lumps in women are diagnosed with physical exam, mammogram, ultrasound, MRI, and biopsy. Treatment of breast lumps in women depend on the cause.
Breast ReconstructionAfter a mastectomy, breast reconstruction is performed to replace the skin, breast tissue, and the nipple. A patient's goals, medical conditions, cancer treatment, and previous surgery affect the type and timing of the reconstructive surgery.
Cancer DetectionCancer detection are methods used to find cancer in persons who may or may not have symptoms. Symptoms of cancer are abnormal sensations or conditions that persons can notice that are a result of the cancer. It is important to your doctor for regular checkups and not wait for problems to occur.
Disease Prevention in WomenDisease prevention in women includes screening tests that are a basic part of prevention medicine. All screening tests are commonly available through your general doctor. Some specialized tests may be available elsewhere.
Female Screening TestsWhat is a health screening? Why is it important to know your blood pressure? How long will your health screening take? Learn about wellness screenings for women for breast cancer, HIV, diabetes, osteoporosis, skin cancer, and more.
eribulin mesylate, HalavenEribulin mesylate (Halaven) is a chemotherapy agent used to treat metastatic breast cancer by interfering with the growth of crucial intracelluar structures. Side effects, drug interactions, and use during pregnancy should be reviewed prior to taking any medication.
Fibrocystic Breast ConditionFibrocystic breast condition (sometimes called fibrocystic breast disease) is characterized by lumpiness and usually pain, tenderness, and discomfort in one or both breasts. The condition is very common and benign (not malignant). Fibrocystic breast condition is the most common cause of "lumpy breasts" in women. A common symptom of fibrocystic breast condition is breast pain or discomfort.
Some women with fibrocystic breasts have mile breast tenderness or pain. Other women with the condition may have very painful and tender breasts with lumpy areas that can be felt. Fibrocystic breast condition is most common in women after age 30, which continues through perimenopause and menopause. Women with the condition often have fewer problems after menopause (postmenopause).
Fibrocystic breast condition that involves hyperplasia is associated with a slightly increased risk of developing breast cancer. Atypical hyperplasia is associated with a moderately increased risk of developing breast cancer compared to women with fibrocystic without fibrocystic changes.
Natural and home remedies to help relieve breast pain include NSAIDs like aspiring, Aleve, and Advil. Prescription medication also may help relieve symptoms of fibrocystic breasts.
Inflammatory Breast CancerInflammatory breast cancer is an accelerated form of breast cancer that is not usually detected by mammogram or ultrasound. Symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer include pain in the breast, skin change in the breast area, bruise on the breast,sudden swelling of the breast, nipple retraction or discharge, and swelling of the lymph nodes.
Men's Cancer SymptomsSee pictures of which 15 cancer symptoms men ignore such as skin changes, difficulty swallowing, rapid weight loss, a breast mass, and more. Learn possible clues to finding and detecting cancer early.
Paget's Disease of The NipplePaget's disease is a rare form of cancer that forms in or around the nipple and frequently coexists with breast cancer. The exact cause of Paget's disease is unknown. Symptoms and signs include redness, scaling, and flaking of the nipple skin. A biopsy and imaging studies are needed to diagnose the disease. Treatment may include surgery, radiation, and adjuvant therapy.
Female Cancer SymptomsCancer symptoms can surprise women if they don't know what to watch out for. 15 cancer symptoms women ignore such as weight loss, bloating, breast changes, unusual bleeding, skin changes, difficulty swallowing, indigestion, and more. Learn possible clues to finding and detecting cancer early.