One in eight women in America will get breast cancer in their lifetimes. Getting a mammogram, which can detect cancer before you can feel a lump, every month is unrealistic, so it is very important to conduct breast self-exams at home to look for any abnormalities. Institutions disagree on which age women should start getting mammograms, ranging anywhere from 40-50.
Only around 5% of breast cancer diagnoses are for women younger than 40. This is a small but still significant number, so although it might not be necessary to start getting annual mammograms until your 40s or 50s, it could still save your life to conduct self-exams or get clinical breast exams starting at age 20.
Steps for Performing a Breast Self-Exam
There are two different ways you can perform a breast self-exam*: in front of the mirror and lying down.
- Lie flat on your back and put your right arm under your head.
- Use your left hand to move your finger pads in small circular motions gently around your right breast, making sure to check every inch of the breast area all the way out into the armpit. Don’t forget to check your nipple as well.
- Repeat for the left breast, now putting your left arm under your head and using your right hand to examine yourself.
In front of a mirror:
- Stand in front of a mirror.
- Keep your arms at your sides.
- Visually look over your breasts; you’re looking for anything out of the ordinary including swelling, dimpling, changes in shape and changes in the nipple.
- Raise your arms over your head.
- Visually inspect again.
- Place your hands on your hips, and push on your hips hard. This flexes your chest muscles.
- Look for any changes.
Repeat both of these breast self-exams once per month.
*Note: Most women do not have two identical breasts, so if your breasts are different from each other, it doesn’t necessarily point to breast cancer. Look for any changes in each individual breast.
If you are unsure of whether or not what you feel are lumps, have more questions about breast cancer screening or want to schedule a clinical breast exam or a mammogram, do not hesitate to call and make an appointment with us.