October is a very meaningful month for me and my family: Breast Cancer Awareness Month. My mom was only 31-years old when she found what turned out to be a cancerous lump in her own breast while doing a self-exam in the shower. Since my mom was so far below the usual age range for mammograms, her self-exam potentially saved her life. Now we celebrate her being in remission for almost 20 years! Since then, I’ve known just how important it is to begin doing what you can at home to get ahead of dangerous diseases.
While breast cancer typically affects women (and some men) ages 50 and above, my own mother is proof that cases can happen at any age. People with a family history of breast cancer should begin doing self-exams much younger and be sure to talk to their OBGYN about whether or not you should receive mammograms before the recommended age of 40.
Thankfully, you can start taking care of your own health today and perform a self-exam in the comfort of your own home! Regularly performing self-exams makes you familiar with your own body and able to notice any changes that occur. Set a calendar reminder for once a month and be sure to schedule regular appointments with your OBGYN!
How to Perform a Self-Exam
According to breastcancer.org, here are the 5 steps to perform a self-exam:
Step 1: Begin by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips. Look for:
- – Size, shape, and color
- – Any visible distortion or swelling
- If you see any of the following changes, bring them to your doctor’s attention:
- – Dimpling, puckering or bulging of the skin
- – A nipple that has changed position or an inverted nipple (pushed inward instead of sticking out)
- – Redness, soreness, rash, or swelling
Step 2: Now, raise your arms and look for the same changes.
Step 3: While you’re in the mirror, look for any signs of fluid coming out of one or both nipples (this could be a watery, milky, or yellow fluid or blood).
Step 4: Next, feel your breasts while lying down. Use a firm, smooth touch with the first few finger pads of your hand, keeping the fingers flat and together. Use a circular motion, about the size of a quarter. Move from top to bottom, side to side — from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen, and from your armpit to your cleavage. You can also move your fingers up and down vertically, in rows, as if you were mowing a lawn. This up-and-down approach seems to work best for most women. Be sure to feel all the tissue from the front to back: for the skin and tissue just beneath, use light pressure; use medium pressure for tissue in the middle of your breasts; use firm pressure for the deep tissue in the back. When you’ve reached the deep tissue, you should be able to feel down to your ribcage.
Step 5: Finally, feel your breasts while you are standing or sitting. Many women find that the easiest way to do this is when their skin is wet and slippery, so they like to do this step in the shower. Use the same hand movements described in step 4.
Approximately 1 in 8 women (13%) will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in their lifetime and those numbers can change based on age, health issues, and ethnicity. Read all of “Breast Cancer: Facts and Figures 2019-2020” from the American Cancer Society to stay aware and help protect yourself or a loved one!