Why Family Medicine is ImportantAs summer ends and people get back into a daily routine, many women add scheduling a breast cancer screening to their fall task list. Breast cancer screening is one of the most important steps women can take to protect their health, and breast self-examination helps women to identify changes in their breasts so that they can seek medical attention if necessary. October is breast cancer awareness month, a time to remind women of the importance of breast self-exams. Early detection is key to the successful treatment of breast cancer, and self-examination can help women to catch breast cancer in its earliest stages. That's why we've outlined a detailed guide on performing breast self-exams, so you can take charge of your health as early as possible.

How To Perform A Breast Self-Exam

The American Cancer Society recommends that women be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel and report any changes to a health care provider right away. It's helpful to familiarize yourself with the different parts of your breast by looking at your breasts in the mirror and using your hands to feel around each breast.

While you should consult your healthcare provider about proper breast cancer detection and risk counseling, you can perform a monthly breast self-exam at home to keep an eye on your health. Your menstrual cycle does not affect breast self-exams, so you can perform them at any time of the month, whether or not you are menstruating. Earlier breast cancer detection is the key to successful treatment and minimizing fatalities, so you must stay vigilant about any changes in your breasts.

Here are a few ways you can examine your breasts:

  • In the shower - Many women find it helpful to self-examine in their shower when their skin is lubricated and the breasts are relaxed. During your shower, lather your hands with soap and raise one arm. Using the pads of your three middle fingers, move around your entire breast in a circular pattern with light pressure, feeling for any lumps or unusual thickening before repeating on the other side.
  • In front of a mirror - While standing in front t of a mirror, visually inspect your breasts for changes in size, shape, nipple position, or skin texture. Look for any nipple discharge, redness or scaliness of the skin, or dimpling. You can then raise your arms high over your head and look for the same changes under your arms.
  • Lying down - While lying down, place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head. Using the pads of your fingers, move around your entire right breast in a circular pattern, feeling for any lumps or unusual thickening. Repeat on the left breast.
  • Clinical breast examination - A clinical breast examination is performed by a healthcare provider and includes both a visual examination of the breasts and palpation (feeling) of the breasts. During a clinical breast exam, your provider will feel your breasts and under your arms for any lumps or unusual thickening. This is typically done in addition to a monthly self-exam and is recommended once every three years for women aged 20-39 and annually for women aged 40 and over.
  • Mammogram - A mammogram is an X-ray imaging test of the breast that can detect tumors that are too small to feel. It's recommended that women schedule a screening mammogram every year starting at age 40.

If you find anything unusual during your self-exam, make an appointment with your healthcare provider for further evaluation. It’s important to remember that many breast changes are benign (non-cancerous). However, if you have any concerns, it’s always best to consult with your care provider.

Why Breast Self-Exams Are Important

Finding breast cancer early can be the key to successful treatment, as they help you to familiarize yourself with your breasts so you can more easily notice changes. Women who are at high risk for developing breast cancer (such as those with a family history of the disease) should be particularly diligent about doing self-exams monthly. However, even women who are considered to be at average risk should perform self-exams regularly.

Breast cancer awareness month is a great time to start, or continue, making breast self-exams a part of your monthly routine. Examining your breasts regularly may help you to detect breast cancer at an early stage, giving you the best chance of ensuring your breast health. Taking care of your physical and emotional well-being is important for women of all ages, and it often requires specialized care. If you have concerns about your reproductive health, visit the specialists at Genesis Medical Associates for comprehensive women's health and gynecology care. With annual wellness visits, birth control offerings, and simple in-office procedures, Genesis Medical Associates is here to address your health needs and help you take control of your health at any stage in your life.

Genesis Medical Associates is dedicated to providing families with access to primary care and improving the overall health and wellness of our patients. We offer a variety of services including gynecologic care, primary care, mental health counseling, cardiology, telemedicine, and more. Visit one of our many Pittsburgh, PA locations or schedule an appointment online today.