Tips, Facts & Myths About Self Breast Exams

May 20, 2021
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While Breast Cancer Awareness Month is five months away still, we try to educate and spread awareness as much as we can all year round. Today, we are going to be talking about self-breast examinations and everything you need to know about them! 

Tips, Facts & Myths About Self Breast Exams

While Breast Cancer Awareness Month is five months away still, we try to educate and spread awareness as much as we can all year round. Today, we are going to be talking about self-breast examinations and everything you need to know about them! 

Hello warriors, readers, patients, and friends! We are so glad you're joining us today for our first blog of May! It is a new season, a new spring, a new time in Charleston, and all of it comes with a new sense of hope and strength within it. We hope each of you reading this today feels that feeling with us, and we hope you know that no matter where you are in your journey, we are here to help and support you. First and foremost, we are here to help empower our amazing patients and to help them through their diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship. This will never be a path you walk alone. We also offer many specialized services right here in our Charleston offices including abnormal breast imaging, family history and genetic testing, oncoplastic surgery, scar revision, body contouring, facial rejuvenation, laser hair removal, lactation, and much more. If you're looking for the premier breast specialists in Charleston, SC, you've found us! 

While Breast Cancer Awareness Month is still officially five months away, we try to honor it every day by spreading awareness, talking about the realities of breast cancer for women of all ages, and trying to use every opportunity we can to educate everyone we meet. Today, in honor of this idea, we are going to be talking about self-breast exams; what they are, the best way to go about giving yourself the best exam, and some common myths you might not know! For those new to The Breast Place, welcome! We are here to support you and your breasts at every stage of your life. We've mentioned this in past blogs, but self-breast exams can be one of the most successful first steps in preventing cancer and catching it in its early stages. Self-breast exams are important for women throughout their lives but can be extremely beneficial for younger women with very thick breast tissue. Having thick breast tissue can make it almost impossible for a mammogram to work on women younger than 40. In many situations, self-breast exams can be one of the only ways that cancer can be caught in women younger than 40, and can be an amazing lifesaver. At The Breast Place, we perform clinical breast exams, family history risk assessment, breast ultrasounds, biopsies including fine needle aspirations, and needle core biopsies in the office. However, sometimes your overall experience and reason why you find us at The Breast Palace can begin with a self-breast examination. Today, we will be focusing on self-breast exams so you can successfully carry out this life-saving procedure on yourself! 

What Is A Self Breast Exam? 

As it is stated in its name, a self-breast exam is an at-home self-inspection of your beasts to see if there are any changes or abnormalities that have appeared within your breasts. The best way to do a fully successful breast exam is to use both your eyes and hands to determine if there are any changes to the overall feel and look of your breasts. If you do see any changes, it is best to speak to your doctor right away. Please note that, according to the Mayo Clinic, that almost all changes found during a self-breast exam for your breasts appear due to benign causes. However, this never means that you should ignore any changes that might appear. It means you still need to share this information with your doctor and have them determine what should happen next. It is still possible that some changes may mean something serious, like breast cancer. 

Why Should I Give Myself Self Breast Exams? 

While breast cancer to this day is still considered something that is only found in women who have gone through menopause, we need to break that stigma! Giving yourself self-breast exams and understanding their importance can help with this! A self-exam or even just examining your breasts on your own can be a huge help with discovering cancer early. This can mean that if cancer is caught and treated earlier, it is more likely to be treated successfully! When self-exams are paired with regular physical exams, they can help make a huge impact on your life and safety. Also remember that giving yourself a breast exam costs you nothing but a little time, and that time is well worth spending on yourself! 

How Do I Give Myself A Self Breast Examination? 

Now that you know a little bit more about self-breast exams and why they are so important, it's time to understand how best to go about giving yourself a breast exam. This way they can be as efficient, effective, and successful as possible. 

  • First of all, how often should you be giving yourself a breast exam? According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, you should be doing an exam once a month. Mark your calendars! Noticing a change and potentially saving your life isn't something you can push back until next month. If you do see a very rapid change in your breasts in between self-exams, this is another situation where you will need to reach out to your doctor right away! 
  • Breast examinations should begin when a woman hits 20 years of age, and you should continue to do so for the rest of your life. For women who are still ovulating and before menopause, these exams should happen on days immediately following your menstrual cycle, as the breasts will be the easiest to exam during this time. 
  • Giving yourself a self-breast exam is a three-step process, and each step should be taken very seriously. Give yourself as much time as possible to complete each step. 
  • First, begin in the shower. Take the three middle fingers of your hand and press down on your entire breast and armpit area on both sides of your body. Press down using light, medium, and firm pressure across the whole breast. Use this to notice any changes to your breast including lumps, thicking, and hard knots. 
  • Step two is a visual exam in front of the mirror. You will need to spend time visually examining both of your breasts and armpits. When doing this visual exam, look for any changes like dimpling of the skin, swelling, changes in your nipples, and changes in the contour of your breasts. 
  • Next, place your hands on your hips and flex your chest muscles while looking into the mirror. Take this opportunity to look for any puckering, dimpling, or changes in your breasts. Pay particular attention to the sides of your breast as you do this. 
  • Step three, you will need to lay on your back with a pillow under your right shoulder with your right arm placed behind your head. You will also be repeating this step on your left side, with the pillow under your left shoulder and your left arm under your head. 
  • Use the opposite hand of the breast you're examining to move the pads of your fingers around your breast and armpit. 
  • Next, use light, medium, and firm pressure to squeeze your nipple. While doing this, please check for discharge and lumps. 
  • If you find any changes, even the slightest ones, please reach out to your doctor right away to check-in and share your findings. 
  • Make sure to repeat this process once a month and keep up with all of your yearly exams.

What To Expect From A Self Breast Exam

While reading about how to give yourself a self-breast exam may teach you how to do it, that doesn't mean you know exactly what to expect or what it might feel like. Here are a few more extra tips and pieces of insight that might make the whole process a little easier and help prepare you a little more. 

  • A cancerous lump might feel rounded, soft, tender, and can happen anywhere in the breast. Sometimes these lumps can even be painful.
  • Just like a mammogram, having fibrous and dense breast tissue can make feeling these lumps and changes difficult. Please make sure to use all three levels of pressure during your exam and make sure it is very thorough. 
  • Always do your breast exam on the same day every month, 3-5 days after your period starts. if you've gone through menopause, do it on the same day every month. 
  • Also check if the size of your breasts, their shape, and position have changed while you're examining them. 
  • Note if your skin has changed, if it has any sores, or if there is any discoloration. 
  • Please check if your nipples have any sores, peeling, or have changed direction. 
  • If you're nervous or still unsure about the whole process, ask your doctor to show you how to give a self-breast examination or have them talk you through the process. 
  • Remember that all breasts have lumps, not just cancerous lumps. As you continue giving yourself exams you will get used to what's normally found in your breasts. This will also help you notice what shouldn't be there. 

Myths About Self Breast Exams & More

Just like we've debunked many different things on our blogs before, there are myths about self-breast exams and other related topics that need to be debunked too. The list below is full of myths to avoid and not worry about while going through your life and caring for your breasts. However, if you do have any questions or concerns even after reading this list and the whole blog, please do not hesitate to reach out and speak with us! 

  • Self-breast exams do not work.
  • All breast cancers can be detected on a mammogram.
  • Mammograms are unsafe and ineffective.
  • You don't need to get screened for breast cancer before the age of 40.
  • All lumps found in your breasts mean you have cancer.
  • All breast cancers are life-threatening.
  • There is nothing you can do to decrease your breast cancer risk.
  • Everyone's breast cancer is exactly the same.
  • Only women can develop breast cancer.
  • People with breast cancer always find a lump.

Remember each of these statements is false! It's important to know the truth about your breasts and it's important to know what false information is out there about your breasts, too! 

Warriors, fight your battles and be strong while doing so. You have the tools now to begin the battle and to keep yourself as prepared and ahead of the diagnosis as possible. Your health is in your hands, quite literally. Please take the time to dedicate a self-breast exam to your schedule every month. In the long run, it might be the biggest key in catching the first sign or stages of cancer that could appear in your body! Until next time, stay safe and be well out there. We understand life is challenging. We are here to listen, support, treat, and help make life a little easier.