Felt something strange during your last breast examination? Don't panic — though scary, lumps in the breast aren't always as serious as they seem, and they don't always spell cancer. While it's very important to get them to biopsy a breast lump to determine whether it's cancerous. But even if a biopsy is deemed necessary, the good news is that more than 80 percent of biopsies turn out not to be breast cancer. Most breast lumps will disappear after menopause, since they are the result of hormonal fluctuations. However, whether you're pre- or postmenopausal, regular breast self-examinations and exams at your doctor's office are important parts of keeping yourself healthy.
Here are key things to remember when performing a self breast exam:
First, stand before your mirror and visually exam your breasts for signs of irregularities Are the breasts similar in shape and proportion? Is there any discoloration of the nipples or any oddity in size? For example, are one of the nipples inverted instead of out? While some irregularity is normal, including a slight difference in size of the breasts, anything out of the normal could be a sign of concern. You should also make sure there is no fluid or unusual liquid coming from your nipples. It’s important to do this regularly so that you have a litmus with which to compare your breasts to in the future.
Second, lay flat on your back and firmly move your fingers around your breasts. Use the tips of two or three fingers and make slow, firm motions. Make small circular motions and move from your nipples to outside the whole breast region, including under your armpits and up towards your collarbone. Alternate from light strokes to deeper strokes where you can feel the ribcage underneath your skin.
Third, make sure to perform this self breast exam on a monthly basis. Many women find that it is easiest to perform while either standing or laying down, so consider performing it in the shower or right when you get out of the shower when the skin is damp and more supple. Keep track of your menstrual cycle as well, because ovulation can impact the shape and size of the breasts. Most importantly, make sure to talk to your doctor about whatever abnormal changes you might see or concerns you might have. It’s always better to be safe rather than sorry.