Knowing your own breasts is an important part of your health. In conjunction with the formal screening program (available to women aged 50-74) it is advised that you also get to know your own breasts at any age to detect any changes.
Why should I check my own breasts?
Everyone’s breasts look and feel different, some may be lumpy and have changes to the nipple, or one breast may be larger than the other. If you know what is normal for your breasts, it allows you to detect when something may be abnormal, and know when you see your doctor to get this looked at.
How often should I check my breasts?
A good time to check your breasts is the day after the last day of your menstrual cycle – this allows your breasts to settle after having your period (they can feel a bit tender or lumpy during this time).
If you don’t have periods (or have irregular periods), the best idea is to check your breasts regularly when they are soft and non-tender, such as on the first day of the month.
How do I check my breasts?
A self-examination can be done in the comfort of your own home. Here are some simple steps to follow. If you have any questions about how to do a self examination, or anything you find on examination, see your GP.
Start by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips. You should be looking for:
Breasts that are their usual size, shape and colour
Breasts that are evenly shaped without any visible distortion or swelling
If you see any of the following, bring them to the attention of your doctor:
Dimpling, puckering, or bulging of skin
A nipple that has changed position or an inverted nipple (pushed inward instead of sticking out)
Redness, soreness, rash or swelling
Raise your arms and look for the same changes. At this time, look for any signs of fluid coming out of your nipples (this may be watery, milky, yellow fluid or bood).
Next, feel your breasts while lying down using your right hand to feel your left breast and your left hand to feel your right breast. 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 20 cent piece. Examine the entire breast from top to bottom and side to side – from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen, and from your armpit to your cleavage.
Ensure you cover the whole breast, you can begin at the nipple and move in larger and larger circles until you reach the outer edge of the breast, or you can move in an up and down pattern.
Be sure to feel all the tissues from the front to the back of your breasts – use light pressure for the skin and tissue just beneath; medium pressure for the tissue in the middle of your breast and use firm pressure for the deep tissue. When you’ve reached the deep tissue, you should be able to feel down to the ribcage.
Follow the same pattern while standing. Many women find that the easiest way to feel their breasts in this position is in the shower so the skin is wet and slippery. Ensure to cover the whole breast as described in the previous steps
What do I do if I find a lump?
If you find a lump, or notice a change in your skin, it is important to get it checked out by your doctor. They can accurately examine the breasts, and refer you for any investigations that may be required. These may include imaging such as a diagnostic mammogram or ultrasound, and a biopsy or aspiration of the lump.
It is important to know that only approximately 5% of breast changes are due to breast cancer, but it is a serious condition that needs to be ruled out in the event that a lump is found.
If you are concerned about a breast lump or you are interested in having a breast exam or organising breast screening, book an appointment with one of our GPs.
Breast Cancer Network Australia 2017, Breast Awareness: Self-Examination, Breast Cancer Network Australia, retrieved online 1/5/17 < https://www.bcna.org.au/breast-health-awareness/breast-awareness/ >
Breastcancer.org 2017, The five steps of breast self-exam, Breastcancer.org, retrieved online 1/5/17, < http://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/testing/types/self_exam/bse_steps >
Maurer Foundation, date unknown, How to do a breast self-exam (BSE), Maurer Foundation, retrieved online 1/5/17, < https://www.maurerfoundation.org/about-breast-cancer-breast-health/how-to-do-a-bse-breast-self-exam/ >
McGrath Foundation 2017, All you need to know about breast awareness’, Curve Lurve, retrieved online 1/5/17, < http://www.curvelurve.com.au/breast-awareness/ >
National Breast Cancer Centre, date unknown, ‘Breast Changes’, National Breast Cancer Centre, retrieved online 1/5/17, < https://canceraustralia.gov.au/sites/default/files/publications/bcb-breast-changes-what-you-need-to-know_504af03979311.pdf >
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