One of the most important things a woman can do to protect her health is performing a monthly breast self exam. This is the first line of defense you have against breast health. It can help you learn what healthy breasts look and feel like, so you can detect changes that may indicate cancer more easily.
Most people think breast self exams are solely for the purpose of finding lumps in the breast. The first step of the exam is to visually examine your breasts in the mirror. This way you can see outwards signs of a breast health problem, including:
- Dimpling. You may notice a rippling or “pulling” of the breast skin and tissue.
- Color changes. A darkening of the breast could be a sign of trouble.
- Texture changes. Deep tissue changes are important, but you should also pay attention to what the skin on the outside of your breasts feels and looks like.
- Size. It’s normal for your breasts to be uneven, but one shouldn’t be getting larger at a faster rate than the other once you’re past puberty.
- Fluid. Any fluid coming from the nipple other than breast milk is a cause for concern. You should see a doctor immediately if the is blood coming from the nipple.
- Nipple changes. Notice the size and shape, and general appearance of your nipples.
You should also be aware of the texture in each area of your breast and notice lumps that appear in a location they normally don’t. For example, most women have a lumpier texture in the upper portion of their breasts, and a sandier texture underneath. If you notice a lump in an area where your breasts normally feel sandy, this may be cause for concern.
Most women will have lumps that appear naturally and then disappear by their next cycle. You should be aware of lumps that appear suddenly and don’t disappear, or that change or grow over time.
Many women with naturally lumpy breasts can get frustrated because it’s hard to remember every lump and notice changes. In this case, you can keep a journal every month. Write down how your breasts normally feel and any changes you notice from the month before. While this may seem embarrassing, it could save your life.
If you do notice a problem with your breasts, don’t panic. Not all issues are due to breast cancer. Schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible so they can perform tests. Don’t ever put off getting a problem looked at. Early detection could be the key to saving your life.