BREAST self examinations involve a visual inspection and physical examination.
A visual examination involves standing in front of a mirror with your arms hanging down and looking at your breasts to check for puckering, dimpling, changes in breast size and texture and if your nipples are inverted.
The two other positions to check for these changes are with your hands on your hips and your hands raised up with your palms pressed together.
The physical examination is to check for lumps or any changes in the breast tissue.
You can conduct the exam in the shower or lying down on a bed. There are two methods to conduct the physical examination, the clock pattern and the wedge pattern.
The clock pattern is where you envision the face of a clock on each of your breasts.
You lie down with your left hand behind your head, and use your right hand to examine your left breast. Put your hand at top of the breast using your middle three fingers in the 12 o’clock position.
Use your fingers in a massaging, clockwise motion to check for lumps. Then you move hour by hour, using the same motion and feeling for any changes in your breasts.
After you have repeated one cycle, move your fingers closer to your nipple and repeat the process until you get to your nipple.
You should check both your left and right nipple for discharge by pinching with your fingers at 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock and at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock.
When you are done with your left breast, put your right hand behind your head and use your left hand to examine your right breast in the same fashion.
Make sure to feel your lymph nodes under your armpit as well as areas around your breasts for any tissue changes.
The wedge method entails envisioning each breast as a pie divided into equal wedges. Lie down on a bed and place your left hand behind your head.
Use your right hand to examine your left breast beginning at the top of your breast and working your way down to your nipple.
Use your middle three fingers to massage firmly but gently from the top of the wedge to the bottom. Once you have completed the wedge, move your fingers to the next wedge going in a clockwise direction.
For the opposite side, put your right hand behind your head and use your left hand to massage your right breast.
Do not forget about checking lymph nodes under your armpit and tissue around your breasts. Examine your nipples for discharge.
If you are not comfortable with the clock or wedge methods, then you can use a simple sweeping technique with your three middle fingers. You begin at your collarbone and work in a clockwise direction from the outside of your breast towards the nipple. If you have larger or thicker breasts, use a walking motion with your fingers to feel for any lumps or changes. Do not forget to check your lymph nodes and nipples.
Pros and cons of breast self-exams
Breast self-exams in combination with clinical breast exams and mammography can reduce the risk of terminal breast cancer.
By checking your breasts regularly you can identify a possibly cancerous lump and have it treated when the cancer is still in its early stages.
Breast self-exams by themselves do not reduce the number of people dying from breast cancer.
Breast self-exams can miss tumors so it is important to have more than one method for screening for breast cancer. You may discover a lump and have an unnecessary biopsy conducted if the lump turns out to be benign.