Statistics show that 97 percent of all breast cancers diagnosed early are curable. The key to that cure rate is early detection says Rita Mahaffey, RN and breast care coordinator at Orlando Health UF Health Cancer Center. A breast self-exam is one of three integral weapons in the fight against breast cancer; the others are mammography and an annual physical exam.
Text courtesy of the Public Education Office at The University of Texas MD Anderson Center Orlando.
In front of a mirror:
- Place your hands on hips, turn from side to side. Press shoulders inward and bend forward.
- Place your hands behind your head and press forward, turning from side to side.
- Place a small pillow or towel under your left shoulder. Put your right hand at the top of the left breast, keeping fingers together and flat. Move your fingers in a wide circle around the breast, moving inward in smaller circles until you have examined the entire breast. Repeat exam on other breast. Report any changes to your health care provider immediately.
In the shower
- Feel for lumps above and below the collarbone. From the collarbone, rub down firmly with a soapy hand to the nipple of one breast. Feel for any lumps.
- Support the breast with one hand while the other hand and fingers slide across the top of the breast. Repeat exam on other breast.
- Check for lumps under your arm while relaxing your arm at your side. Keep fingers together and flat. Repeat exam on other breast.
- A thickening, lump or swelling in the breast or underarm area
- Skin irritation, redness, dimpling or puckering
- Nipple changes such as spontaneous discharge, scaliness, a pulling to one side, or a change in direction
- Changes in breast size or shape
- Nipple pain or retraction (turning inward)
- Redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin
- A discharge from the nipple (other than breast milk)
Report any of these symptoms to your doctor immediately. Remember that most of the time, breast changes are not cancer, but every suspicious lump deserves to be checked out thoroughly.