How do you do a breast self-examination? What should you look for when checking your breasts? What do you do if you find a breast lump? It can feel a little overwhelming so don’t worry if you don’t know where to start. With some simple tips and advice you’ll soon grow in confidence.
Thank you for all the comments and shares of my previous blog – How often should I examine my breasts? I explained it was all about being generally breast aware rather than having a set time to do an examination but that routine and reminders can help to avoid the months flying past without you doing a check. A helpful comment from a reader pointed out that the wonderful charity CoppaFeel do a text reminder service so you’ll get sent a monthly message to remind you.
No let’s learn how to examine ourselves.
First up …
Remember that every woman is different and so is every breast.
Breasts are made of fatty tissue and fat is lumpy so at first you might think it’s an impossible task! Breasts change with ageing, the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, breast feeding and more. Some women have very lumpy breasts, others softer with few lumps. Many women find their breasts change dramatically with their menstrual cycle and for some women it makes little difference. It’s all about knowing what is normal for you and your normal may change throughout the month.
If you get very lumpy tender breasts before your period, then you may find a few days after your period is the best time for you to examine yourself. Similarly women who are peri-menopausal may experience intermittent breast tenderness and find it uncomfortable to examine themselves and want to move their self-check to a week or two later.
Get to know what works for you and what feels normal for you. Remember no one is symmetrical! And most importantly, if you notice changes or things you aren’t sure about then see your doctor.
Strip to the waist and stand in front of the mirror. With your back straight and your arms by your side just look at your breasts. Look for:
- Any skin changes – rashes, redness or rough patches of skin.
- A change in the outline – is the skin swollen, puckered or dimpled?
- Check your nipples – look for crusting and give them a gentle squeeze to make sure no discharge come out.
Now look again while you raise your arms above your head and then put your hands on your hip.
You can feel your breasts while you stand in front of the mirror or you can jump in the shower. Some women find it easier when they have a wet, soapy hand as it glides over the skin.
Use the pad of your middle three fingers of one hand. (Use your right hand to check your left breast and vice versa). Keep your fingers together and keep them flat against your breast. Press lightly, moving your fingers in a small circular motion. Imagine your breast is a clock face, move around from 12 o’clock, right round the numbers until you are back to 12 again, make sure that all areas of the breast are checked. Always check right up to your collar bone and into your armpit too as breast tissue extends here. Repeat this process but press a little more firmly this time so you can feel right through to your ribcage which lies beneath the breast.
It’s a good idea, especially if you have large breasts to repeat this when you are lying down. Lying down spreads out the breast tissue and can make it easier.
What to feel for
The most important thing is that you notice things that are different for you. Obviously, you need to have checked at least once to know if there are any changes but you will soon feel confident.
You are feeling for breast lumps – not all lumps are harmful so don’t panic. Lumps may be small or large, soft or firm, circular or a longer thickened area. Breast tissue is naturally lumpy so it is difficult. If you are having regular periods and discover a lump then you might choose to re-examine yourself just after your period to see if the lump persists.
See your doctor if you discover a lump or any of the other changes mentioned above. Do not feel embarrassed, they will be pleased that you have been checking yourself and can either quickly reassure you or arrange for you to go to a specialist breast clinic for them to examine you and carry out any further scans or tests that might be necessary. Remember breast lumps are often due to non-cancerous reasons such as cysts or hormonal lumpiness.
Check today and be proud that you are taking care of yourself.
If you’d like to read about my experience going for my first mammogram then you can read it here.
There are more answers to questions like these and lots of health information to help you lead a happy and active life in my book Sorted: The Active Woman’s Guide to Health. Published by Bloomsbury and awarded First Place in the Popular Medicine category at the British Medical Association Medical Book Awards 2018.
Disclaimer: I can’t give personal medical advice and as always with health advice, reading something online doesn’t replace seeing your doctor who knows your medical history and can assess you in person. So, if you are unsure then always seek the opinion of a health care professional.