Regular breast self-exams (BSEs) are an important part of staying on top of your reproductive health. Performing self-exams regularly increases the likelihood that any unusual symptoms are detected early, and you’ll learn to differentiate between normal cyclic breast changes and anomalous breast lumps that require medical attention. Doctors recommend that adult women perform a breast self-exam at least once a month to monitor any changes or lumps that need to be looked at by a medical practitioner.
Many women’s breasts naturally change through the course of their cycles, especially those with fibrocystic breasts, which are breasts that feel lumpy or rope-like in texture. Fibrocystic breasts are so common that more than half of women experience fibrocystic breast changes at some point in their lives. Often, the lumps associated with fibrocystic breasts diminish during the pre-ovulatory phase and then reappear during the post-ovulatory phase. For this reason, it’s strongly recommended that women perform breast self-exams during their pre-ovulatory phase when the breast tissue is least dense. Day 7 of your cycle is the ideal day to aim for!
If you notice any anomalies when performing a breast self-exam, you should pay attention to whether the symptom remains indefinitely or disappears with the new cycle. Persistent symptoms should be examined by a clinician.
Performing a breast self-exam is easy and only takes a few minutes. You can even ask your partner to help you!
- Stand in front of the mirror and look at your breasts. Look for signs of the dimpling of the skin, nipple changes, or redness and swelling.
- Put both hands on your hips and bend forward slightly, still looking for any unusual changes.
- Look again with both arms raised above your head.
- Check breasts with your hands (you can do this in the shower so that the soap allows your fingers to glide easily over your skin). With your right hand behind your head, use your left hand to check your right breast. Start closest to your armpit, using firm pressure and moving your fingers together in a circular motion. Slowly move towards the nipple using the circular motion until you have examined the entire breast. When you’re done with one breast, repeat for the other.
- Finally, repeat this process while lying down, because sometimes lumps are easier to detect while the breast is lying flat against your chest.
Any of the following should be brought to the attention of a medical practitioner, especially if they persist into your next cycle:
● Lumps or thickening of the tissue
● Lump in underarm or above collarbone
● Swelling under the arm
● Puckering or dimpling of the skin, like the skin of an orange
● Persistent skin irritation, flaking, redness, or tenderness of breast
● Sudden change in nipple position (such as inversion, where the nipple goes inwards)
● Bloody or unusual nipple discharge
Remember, if you do find an unusual lump, don’t panic – the vast majority of breast lumps are not cancerous. However, it is important to report any unusual symptoms to your medical provider right away because early detection means more treatment options and a better prognosis if the lump does turn out to be malignant.