How to do a Breast Self Exam

Inspired by some intrepid Groupthinkers at Jezebel, who brought up the very valid point that sexualizing breast cancer awareness isn’t necessarily the best way to prevent breast cancer,  (Save second base? Really?) we thought it might be nice to be servicey and offer a basic how-to on self-exams.  Monthly self-exams, combined with annual mammograms for women over 40, are the best way to catch potentially malignant changes in breast tissue early enough for successful treatment. The best time to do a self exam is right after your period.  Hormonal changes immediately before and after your cycle can cause harmless lumpines, for lack of a scientific term, which can lead to unnecessary worrying.  I’ve always found it easiest to do self-exams in the shower with soapy hands, which eliminates the friction issue one might encounter when trying to do an exam on dry skin.

1. Start by raising the same arm as the breast you are examining above your head.  Start in your armpit and move your fingers in small circles with a medium amount of pressure.   Feel the entire underarm area, including the tissue I always lovingly refer to as my superfluous boob on the side of your chest if you have such a thing.

2. When you’ve fully examined your armpit, move to the breast itself.  Start around the nipple and continue to use small, circular movements to feel the entire breast, working out from the center.  You’re looking for changes in the tissue – it’s normal for breasts to be a little lumpy, so part of the reason to do regular exams is so you know what your version of normal is.

3. Lumps that move around or shift when you press into them are usually nothing to worry about, cancerous growths don’t move.  However, if you’re concerned for any reason, please consult with your doctor or nurse practitioner.

4. Put your arm at your side and examine the tissue again, with the same small circles working from the nipple out.

5. Repeat on the other side.

All in all, a breast exam shouldn’t take more than a few minutes of time you’re already spending in the shower.  Doing them monthly helps you get to know your breasts so you’ll be more aware of any changes.

For more information, check out cancer.org’s comprehensive guide to breast cancer detection here.

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[E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

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