Second only to skin cancers, more American women are diagnosed with breast cancer than any other type of cancer, at a rate of 13%. That equates to 1 in every 8 women finding themselves with a breast cancer diagnosis at some point in their lifetime. Early detection, however, is one of the best defenses, as some studies suggest breast cancer that is caught early is less dangerous and can result in better patient outcomes. In addition to an annual breast exam by your doctor, women should also take matters into their own hands—literally. Make it a habit and give yourself a breast exam once a month to protect your own health.
First, look. Stand with your shoulders square in front of the mirror and look at your breasts. Healthy breasts will not have visual distortion or swelling. You can also look for changes in your breasts. Get to know what your “normal” looks like and note any big changes in size, color, or shape. Skin that is dimpled or puckered should prompt a call to your doctor, as well as inverted nipples, nipples that have changed in color or size, or a red rash.
After you’ve completed the visual exam squared up to the mirror, lift your arms into the air above your head and look for the same characteristics listed above. Nipple discharge that is milky, watery, yellow, or bloody can indicate a potential problem, as well.
For the next step, lay down. Place your fingers together and use the tips to create small circular motions over your breasts, using the left hand to check the right breast and the right hand to check the left breast. Make sure to check the entire area. During this part of the exam, make note of any suspicious lumps or changes from your last breast exam.
Complete the above step this time while standing up or sitting.