Breast Self Exam (BSE)

This year, 1 in 8 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer. How can you increase your chances of early detection? One way is a monthly Breast Self Examination (BSE). The earlier you find breast cancer, the better the cure rate and the easier it is to treat.

To begin a breast exam, press your hands on your hips and stand up straight. Look in the mirror for anything that looks out of the ordinary, such as puckering or dimpling of the skin, swelling, redness, or any other unusual changes. Raise your arms over your head with your palms pressed together and repeat this process.

Next, gently squeeze each nipple and check for any discharge. You are looking for blood or a yellow-tinged fluid. Repeat this process while lying down with one arm behind your head.

Continuing while lying down with one arm behind your head, the next step is to use the tips of your fingers to examine the breast that corresponds with the raised arm. Feel your entire breast area. You should use small circles and examine from your collarbone to the beginning of your abdomen as well as from side to side. Use three different levels of pressure in order to feel all the breast tissue. Light pressure is needed to feel the tissue closest to the skin; medium pressure to feel a little deeper; and firm pressure to feel the tissue closest to the chest and ribs. Lastly, repeat the process while standing or sitting up straight. Do not forget your armpit as enlarged lymph nodes can be an indication of cancer as well. Examine each underarm while sitting up or standing and with your arm only slightly raised so you can easily feel in this area. Raising your arm straight up tightens the tissue in this area and makes it difficult to examine.

Most women have lumpy, bumpy breasts all the time, so do not panic if you find anything. Make an appointment with your doctor so he or she can do a more thorough exam. Most lumps that are removed end up being classified as benign, not cancerous, and not every bump needs to be removed.

When should you do your BSE? The best time for most women is a few days after the end of their monthly menstrual cycle. Breasts are less tender than they would be during your period. Post-menopausal (either by age or hysterectomy) and women with irregular cycles should set the same date each month and stick to it. Most importantly, all women should make a BSE a monthly habit.

The American Cancer Society suggests starting BSEs at age 20 in conjunction with a breast exam by a health professional every three years until age 40. After age 40, schedule a breast exam by a health professional and a mammogram every year, while continuing with monthly BSEs. Breast self-exams can miss tumors, as can other methods of screening, so it is important to rely on more than one method to screen for breast cancer.

A breast exam is very simple. It is a matter of looking and feeling for any changes in your breasts. If you do it regularly and become familiar with the normal lumps and bumps or your own breasts, it will be easier for you to notice irregularities. If you do notice something out of the ordinary, it is important to make an appointment to see your doctor.

References and Other Resources:

Susan G. Komen for the Cure: "Breast Self-Exam", Susan G. Komen for the Cure

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