Why breast self-exams are important

When it comes to early detection, regularly examining how your breasts look and feel for abnormalities is crucial. In fact, women often discover many problems themselves first. And, the earlier you find breast cancer, the better!

In addition to going for mammograms and annual check-ups, experts recommend that all adult women—beginning at age 18—perform monthly breast self-exams to check for lumps and other changes that might indicate the presence of breast cancer.

Continue the practice of giving yourself a breast self-exam throughout your life, even during pregnancy and after you go through menopause. Performing breast self-exams on a set, regular schedule will help you notice when things don’t look or feel quite right.

Common breast cancer warning signs

When it comes to things to look for, it’s essential to remember that symptoms can be different from person to person. That’s why you should take note of any changes to the look or feel of your breasts, such as:

  • Thickening or hard knots inside your breast or under your arm
  • Redness, darkening, swelling, or warmth of your breast
  • Changes in the shape or size of your breast
  • Puckering or dimpling of your breast’s skin
  • Discharge from your nipple

It’s helpful to remember that most breast lumps are benign. However, if you do find a knot or notice in your breasts, don’t panic. This alone don’t necessarily mean you have breast cancer. If you find something abnormal, make an appointment to see your physician. Depending on what you found, your doctor may want to see you right away.

How to perform a breast self-exam

Some women like to perform a breast self-exam in front of a mirror, and others prefer to do them in the shower, or while lying down.

Ultimately, the most important thing is just to make sure you do them.

According to the American Cancer Society, you should examine your breasts using three different levels of pressure:

  • Light pressure: Feel the tissue closest to your skin
  • Medium pressure: Feel a little deeper
  • Firm pressure: Feel deeper breast tissue closer to your chest wall

When you should do a breast self-exam

  • If you menstruate: Several days, or about a week, after your period ends
  • If you no longer menstruate: Pick a specific day (such as the first Monday of each month)
  • If you take hormones: Choose a day with the help of your physician


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