September 28, 2012
Breast Self-Exam: A Simple Routine That Could Save Your Life
By Margaret Mercado, MD
Did you know that breast lumps are often discovered by women themselves? Here is a simple, seven-step routine for breast self-examination:
- While standing in front of a mirror, with your hands on your hips, visually examine your breasts. Look for lumps, changes in size, color, shape or contour.
- Repeat this portion of the examination with your hands behind your head.
- Next, press each nipple, checking for discharge.
- Lie down with a pillow under your left shoulder and place your left hand under your head. With the fingers of your right hand flattened and together, press the top portion of the left breast. Using circular motions, feel for lumps and thickening. In other words, think of your breast as the face of a clock. With the top of the breast as 12 o'clock, move around the outer portion of the breast clockwise. Once you have returned to 12 o'clock, move the fingers closer to the nipple and repeat.
- Once you have checked the entire surface of the left breast, move the pillow and examine your right breast.
- Using the same small, circular motions, examine the area adjacent to your breasts in the armpit. Seventy-five percent of breast cancer occurs under the nipple-areola region or in the upper, outer portion of the breast near the armpit, so make sure you examine these areas thoroughly.
- If you detect thickening, swelling or a lump, contact your doctor immediately. Most lumps are benign, but only your doctor can determine that for sure.
By performing a breast self-exam at least one time every month, you will become very familiar with how your breasts normally feel and look. This will help make it easier for you to detect any abnormalities.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month – a great time to schedule a mammogram and begin regular self-exams if you are not already doing them. The sooner breast cancer is detected, the more likely it can be successfully treated.
Mammograms are provided at St. Anthony Mammography Clinic in Gig Harbor (253-530-2655); Carol Milgard Breast Center in Tacoma (253-759-2622); Women's Health & Breast Center in Federal Way (253-944-4025); and St. Elizabeth Hospital in Enumclaw (360-802-8570).
About the writer: Margaret Mercado, MD, specializes in family medicine with the Franciscan Medical Group. Need a doctor? Call the Franciscan Physician Referral Line at 1-888-825-3227 toll-free.