The do’s of a breast self-exam

What is a breast self-exam?
A breast exam is the way you can check your breasts for changes, such as lumps or thickenings. 

Importance of performing a breast self-exam
The main reason for doing a breast self-exam is to detect breast cancer as early as possible. If caught early, the prognosis is more probable to be a positive one. It is a good idea to get to know what is normal for your breasts. That way, if you observe changes you can check in with your doctor. Of course your breasts may change in size and shape. Breasts can change as a result of where you are in your menstrual cycle, during pregnancy, breastfeeding, with dieting or if you pick up weight.

How to do a breast self-exam?
Examine yourself several days after your menses ends, when your breasts are least likely to be swollen and tender. Make sure to do a breast self-exam once a month. However, a breast self-exam should never replace radiological tests like a mammogram and breast ultrasound.

Step 1
Stand with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips. Look at your bare breasts in the mirror in a well-lit room.

Pay particular interest to your breasts:

  • Size
  • Shape
  • Position
  • Colour
How should it not look like and feel?
  • Dimpling, puckering or bulging of the skin
  • Unevenly shaped
  • Distortion
  • Swollen
  • Red discolouration
  • Painful
  • Rash
  • Fluid that is watery, milky, yellowish or bloody coming out of one or both nipples
  • A nipple has changed position or is pushed inward instead of sticking out
  • A nipple has sores and/or is peeling
Step 2
Raise your arms and look for the same changes.

Step 3
Feel your breasts using soap or oil while you are standing or sitting with your shoulders straight.

Use your right hand to feel your left breast and then your left hand to feel your right breast.

Use a firm, smooth touch with the first few finger pads of your hand, keeping the fingers flat and together.

Use a circular motion, about the size of a R5.

Cover the entire breast from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen and from your armpit to your breastbone.

Feel all the tissue. For the skin and tissue just beneath, use light pressure; for tissue in the middle of your breasts, use medium pressure; for the deep tissue (near the ribcage), use firm pressure.

Step 4
Complete the same procedure as in step 3, but while lying down on your back.

Step 5
If you notice any changes, or if you are worried or are in any doubt, then you should consult your doctor. It is better to be safe than sorry.

What to look for if you have breast implants?
In addition to the above, if you have breast implants you will be able to feel them and differentiate them from your natural breast tissue.

  • Check if the implant feels tighter and firmer than usual
  • Feel for ridges and ripples on the implants.
  • Check if you notice a reduction in size.
  • Check if you feel any lump or bump that feels like the breast implant is pushing into your skin.

Research done by Prof. Dr. Ina Shaw (MMI Holdings and University of Johannesburg) and Prof. Dr. Brandon S. Shaw (University of Johannesburg).

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