It's Never Too Early to Check for Breast Cancer: Tips for At-Home Self-Exams

Breast cancer will affect more than 260,000 women this year alone. Although it’s not as common in men, more than 2,500 males are expected to receive the same diagnosis. Breast cancer tends to affect Caucasian and African American women more than other ethnic groups. If it runs in your family, you are more likely to face breast cancer in your lifetime. While these statistics may seem overwhelming, the good news is that the number of breast cancer diagnoses have stabilized since 2000, largely due to increased mammography and awareness. 

At the Chronic Pelvic Pain Center of Northern Virginia, we care deeply about women’s health and your health in particular. Our expert OB-GYN team led by Dr. Melissa Delgado and nurse practitioners Wendy Roberts and Amanda McClay is here to answer all your questions about hormone replacement therapy, chronic pelvic pain, irritable bowel syndrome, and everything to do with feminine health issues. 

When it comes to breast cancer, we understand the devastating impact it can have on you and your loved ones. We want to help you do all you can to learn the signs, detect it early, and treat it fast. In addition to being the second most common type of cancer found in women, it can also be linked to ovarian cancer, so it’s very important to educate yourself on the topic and monitor your health. Our team has compiled a few tips for performing a self-exam at home.

1. Mammograms are your best hope

The first thing you should know about breast self-exams—they should NOT replace mammograms. Mammography is still the single most effective screening test for breast cancer known today. A mammogram is simply an X-ray of your breast tissue that tells your doctor if you have early warning signs of cancer.

You should have an annual mammogram beginning at age 40, but you should begin earlier if breast cancer runs in your family or you are in a high-risk group. 

2. What good does a breast self-exam do?

Although they are not as accurate as mammograms or clinical exams performed by a healthcare provider, breast self-exams are your first line of defense when it comes to detecting breast cancer. Physical and visual changes in your breasts may be warning signs and should prompt you to call us right away. But you won’t know if there are changes unless you know the look and feel of your breasts. Regular self-exams allow you to become familiar with your own body so that you’ll know immediately when something is different.

3. How to do a breast self-exam at home

Even though mammograms are the most accurate early indicators of breast cancer, 40% of the diagnosed cases were detected by women who found a lump during a breast self-exam. There are three ways to do it.

Take a look

Stand in front of a mirror with your hands on your hips and just take a look at your breasts. Just like your feet, one might be a little larger or a slightly different shape than the other, but do look for differences like lumps, dimples, or swelling. 

To change their positions slightly and give you a different angle, raise your hands over your head and check to see if you notice any pronounced deformities. 

Flat on your back

This is the way a clinical exam is performed. It’s best to place a small pillow or something soft under your shoulder blade that will elevate your breast during your exam. You will examine each side separately. Start with your right arm behind your head and use your left hand to feel your right breast. Use the pads of your fingers to make small circular motions all around the breast, including the nipple area and even your armpit. Use varying pressures as well. Gently squeeze your nipple to see if any discharge is present. 

While showering

The shower is a convenient place to do a breast self-exam since you’re already topless and the water and soap make the exam smooth and easy. Much like you would in the prone position, lift one arm over your head and use the opposite hand to examine the breast. Use the same circular motions and cover the entire breast and armpit. Then repeat on the other side. 

If you notice any lumps, hard knots, or thickening of the tissue, come in and see us right away. But don’t panic. A lump is often benign, meaning noncancerous. But it’s best to have it checked out. Breast self-exams are simple and free and can save your life. Make it part of your routine at home and you’ll increase your chances of catching and treating breast cancer. 

If you have found a lump or simply have questions about breast cancer or other feminine health issues, call us or request an appointment online. 

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