Early detection is the best weapon we have against breast cancer. Many breast cancers (almost half) are detected by women completing a breast self-exam. When detected early, your chances of surviving breast cancer increase drastically.
Women should start breast self-exams in their twenties, and it should be done monthly. If you are unsure of how to complete the exam you can ask your health care clinician to show you, or you can utilize multiple sites that offer a step-by-step diagram. I recommend breastcancer.org or the American Cancer Society. Many health care organizations offer reminder cards to hang in your shower. These typically have breast exam instructions on them as well.
When completing your exam, take note of the following:
- Skin irritation or dimpling
- Breast pain
- Nipple pain or nipple turning inward
- Nipple discharge
- A lump in the underarm area
- Swelling of all the breast (either the entire breast or a specific area)
- Redness or changes (thickening) to the skin or nipple
- Open sore or bump, rash
- Difference in vein pattern over one breast
Any of the above should be brought to the attention of your health care clinician for follow-up along with your family cancer history. This information may direct your clinician to start your screenings earlier in life or add different types of screening tools.
Always remember monthly breast self-exams, combined with routine clinical exams and yearly mammograms, are the best steps to maintain proper breast health.