Don’t be shy or embarrassed about this topic, ladies. We all have boobs, so let’s make sure we take care of them.
I didn’t realize until recently that you are supposed to check yourself (do a breast self exam, or BSE) at least once every month, after turning 18. I am 25—take a guess how many I’ve done. None. That’s mostly because I have no idea what to do and what I’m looking for. In the back of my mind, I’ve always just figured a lump would have to be pretty big for me to figure out I had it and get it checked. Which is terrible thinking because if that were to happen, if I were to wait until there was a noticeable lump I just happened to catch one day, it might be too late.
So if you’re like the old me and have no idea what the steps are to preform a breast self exam, read on to learn:
- Just look at yourself in a mirror. Do your breasts look the same? I’m not talking about the natural (often unfortunate) changes we all go through after pregnancy and breastfeeding. Standing normally with hands by your sides, check your breasts for:
Now put your hands above your head and check the appearance again.
- Now lay down on your back with your right arm up and a pillow behind your shoulders. Use your left hand to feel the entire breast. When feeling the breast, check all over, not just around the nipple. Breast tissue goes all the way into the armpit so check under your arm for lumps or abnormalities as well. Anything that wasn’t there before, especially if it feels firm, is a concern. Repeat for the left breast using your right hand to explore.
- Pressure: use a soft, medium, and then firm amount of pressure as you feel around. The soft pressure feels just under the skin, the medium feels a little deeper into the tissue, and the firm pressure will feel the deepest tissue. Don’t hurt yourself, but this firm pressure isn’t exactly supposed to be comfortable.
- Follow a pattern while feeling around. Whether you circle the nipple, using bigger circles as you move towards from the nipple, a section by section approach, or an up and down in rows technique—stay consistent and get the entire breast.
No matter what pattern you use to feel the entire breast, move your fingers in tiny circles as you push into your skin.
- Record your observations if you find anything you want to keep an eye on, and try to do the examination on the same day every month, just after your period ends. This will eliminate any pesky thoughts or worries like, “Did I really feel something or am I crazy/paranoid?” Better to be paranoid and extra sure than suffering later.
- It’s important to note that some women have lumpy or uneven breasts naturally and there’s no cause for concern. By keeping a record of your observations, you’ll understand/know your body better and be able to see if any lumps or oddities change or remain the same over time.
- If you find a lump, don’t panic. Some lumps may go away with menstruation or be caused by something else. If you’re breastfeeding, it’s common to find a hard spot in the breast from your milk or from engorgement. If the lump persists, then go see your doctor (and bring your records of observations).
Breast health is no joke. Honestly, ANYONE can get Breast Cancer; you don’t need to have a family history of it to get it (though women who do a have family history of Breast Cancer are at greater risk and should take each breast self exam even more seriously). So I’m going to challenge you to go check yourself right now. Stop reading and go use your newfound knowledge of how to give yourself a breast self exam. Then, I challenge you to commit to checking yourself once a month from here on out. Set a reminder alert on your phone that reoccurs on the same day each month, if you need to. It only takes a few seconds to check while showering or getting dressed, but it could save your life.
**Remember, breast self examination does NOT replace clinical (doctor) examination or mammograms. Use BSE alongside your doctor’s frequent examinations.