A monthly breast self-exam is a simple, non-invasive examination you can do right in the comfort and privacy of your own home. Over the years, there has been some debate over whether breast self-exams help detect cancer early and increase the chance of survival.
Because studies have raised uncertainty about the value of this exam, the American Cancer Society no longer recommends breast self-exams as a primary screening tool. However, the organization still suggests that women become familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel so they can report any changes to their physician.
Many doctors still recommend self-exams as a way to help detect cancer early, along with regular physical exams by a doctor and mammograms.
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Monthly Breast Self-Exam Tips:
- Examine your breasts at the same time every month. It’s best to do it several days after your period so your breasts are not tender or swollen. If you no longer have periods, pick a day that’s easy to remember.
- Identify your personal preferences. Perform breast self-exams in the shower, in front of a mirror or lying down.
- Report any changes you notice to your doctor. This includes lumps, swelling, dimpling, nipple pain or retraction, redness, scaliness, a thickening of the skin or a discharge from the nipple.
Your doctor can show you how to properly do a breast self-examination. It can feel awkward at first, but once you get in the habit of examining your breasts regularly, you may be able to detect small changes. Although you shouldn’t panic if you think you feel a lump (only about 20% of suspicious lumps turn out to be cancer), any changes you find should be reported to your doctor as soon as possible.