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Breast Self Examination

A Simple Routine That Could Save Your Life

Most breast lumps are discovered by women themselves. Although the majority of lumps are non-cancerous, early detection saves lives. Premenopausal women should examine their breasts the week following menstruation each month when the breast are the least swollen and tender. Women who no longer menstruate can pick one day of each month for self-examination.

Step 1. While standing in front of a mirror, with your hands on your hips, visually examine your breasts. Look for lumps, changes in size, color, shape or contour. Look for dimples or puckering. Are your nipples normally inverted? If not, look to see if they are pushed in.

Step 2. Repeat this portion of the examination with your hands behind your head.

Step 3. Next, press each nipple, checking for discharge.

Step 4. Lie down with a pillow under your left shoulder and place your left hand under your head. With the fingers of your right hand flattened and together, press the top portion of the left breast. Using circular motions, feel for lumps and thickening. In other words, think of your breast as the face of a clock. With the top of the breast as 12 o'clock, move around the outer portion of the breast clockwise. Once you have returned to 12, move the fingers closer to the nipple and repeat. Seventy-five percent of breast cancer occurs under the nipple-areola region or in the upper, outer portion of the breast near the armpit, so make sure you thoroughly examine these areas.

Step 5. Once you have checked the entire surface of the left breast, move the pillow and examine the right breast with the left hand.

Step 6. Using the same small, circular motions examine the area adjacent to your breast in the armpit. This area also contains breast tissue. (Note: A breast self-exam can also be performed during a shower or bath.)

Step 7. If you detect thickening or a lump, contact your doctor immediately. Most lumps are benign, but only a doctor can determine that for sure.

By performing a breast self-exam every month, you will become familiar with how your breasts normally look and feel. This will help make abnormalities easier to detect.

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