Breast Cancer Testing and Signs

Do your breast exams and checks EVERY month. Try to do them at the same time each month, so that you can make good comparisons. If you have periods, a good time to do them is a week after your period.

Lying down with a pillow or rolled up towel under your shoulder, put your right arm behind your head. Using varying amounts of pressure and a circular motion with the three middle fingers of your left hand, start at your right armpit and follow an up and down pattern…moving across the entire right breast area, down to your braline and up to your collarbone. Your pressure should be light, firm, then firmer in every spot. To ensure proper coverage, do not lift your fingers off of your skin as you move along. Change arms and repeat on your left breast.

You can also perform self examinations in the shower. Soap up your hands and raise your right hand above your head. With various amounts of pressure, use a circle motion to feel the breast, starting at one side in an up and down pattern to the other side. Switch, raising your left hand above your head and repeat.

After exiting the shower, stand in front of the mirror. First place your hands at your side, and look for any irregularities. Then raise your hands above your head and do the same. Then with your hands on your hips, tighten your chest muscles. Finally, with your hands still on your hips, bend forward. Look for dimpling or unnatural indents.

Gently squeeze each nipple and look for discharge.

Signs to watch for:

– a firm lump, hard knot, thickening, or swelling
– change in skin color of the breast, such as redness or darkening
– change in size or shape of breast
– depression or dimple in breast
– veins that appear more prominent on one breast
– nipple changes – inverted, rash, discharge, itchy, scaly
– pain in one spot that doesn't go away

If you feel or see something irregular, ask your doctor. If they dismiss it and you still have concerns, push for a mammogram. So many women I've read about have had doctors tell them not to worry, after pushing their doctor for a mammogram they find out they have cancer. Your doctor doesn't know everything. Your instinct and gut feelings are often more reliable than his or hers…

Your physician or nurse practioner should be able to explain the process of breast examination and what is normal for your breasts. Ask them if they don't readily volunteer this information. My doctor, for example, stated that some areas may feel like partially cooked macaroni. I know it sounds silly, but it helps to have something to relate to… has some good explanations for what the various areas of breast tissue may feel like…

From age 20 until age 40, you should have your breasts checked at least every three years by a medical professional. After 40, the checks should be annual in addition to annual mammograms. If there is a history of breast cancer in your family, ask your health care professional for recommendations on when/how often to be checked. (If it was me, I'd have a clinical breast exam done every year along with a mammogram starting at least by age 30 if I had a family history involving breast cancer.)

There is really no excuse for not getting your mammograms…many organizations exist that provide free mammograms to those who need them. For information on free mammogram testing, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-ACS-2345, the National Cancer Institute at 1-800-4-CANCER, or visit the American Breast Cancer Foundation.

Recommended links:
Free Self-Exam Shower Card from
Video on performing a self-examination

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