Most women are aware that a monthly self breast exam is recommended by the American Cancer Society, as well as their own personal health care providers. The problem is, many simply don’t. Even worse, those who do are not doing the procedure correctly, therefore increasing the likelihood that they will end up with undiagnosed breast cancer due to false confidence. If you are not doing monthly self exams, start now. The only thing you have to fear is going a moment longer without knowing that there is a problem. Every day can make a difference in your chances for survival. If you are doing a monthly breast self exam, or if you intend to start, read the following information to make sure that you are doing so properly.
First, understand that your breast self exams must be conducted the week after your period has ended. Because we have hormonal changes that can temporarily change the feel of our breasts, especially around the time of our periods, it is essential to conduct self exams the week after when things have stabilized a bit more. Also, try to make it a point to be consistent with the date of your self exam. While your period dates may fluctuate, causing you to have to change breast exam dates each month, you can still try to keep a consistent schedule for the most part if you have a healthy menstrual cycle (if your periods are widely scattered, talk to your doctor about other problems that may exist).
The second mistake to avoid is not giving yourself a thorough exam. You are probably already aware that you are to take two fingers and firmly press each section of your breast during the self check, but are you aware that the areas surrounding your breasts must be checked as well? From your collarbone, to underneath your breasts, to underneath each armpit, the entire area must be checked for lumps and irregularities. The entire exam should take at least ten minutes. If you aren’t spending ten minutes on your exams, you aren’t doing yourself justice. Checking your breasts for lumps does nothing if the exams are done too quickly to detect a problem. Take your time. It’s worth the effort.
The next mistake that women make regularly when conducting monthly breast self exams is ignoring additional cancer signs. Check the areas mentioned above for rashes, redness, itchy spots, nipple discharge, and anything that appears out of the ordinary, in addition to searching for lumps. If you have a large chest, be sure to check underneath each breast with the help of a good mirror and excellent lighting as well. These changes can also indicate breast cancer and must be examined immediately by a health care provider.
The final mistake that so many women make each month and year, and perhaps the one that causes many women their lives, is feeling scared or ashamed to go to the doctor for something that they have discovered. This is especially true for women who commonly have lumps or skin problems on their breasts that turn out to be nothing. Some women are afraid of “bothering” their doctors with constant visits. If you have a doctor that makes you feel this way, it’s time to see another physician. Women are at danger of being misdiagnosed or ignored completely because doctors tend to take them less seriously. Find a doctor that appreciates your savvy knowledge of your own body, and who understands your concern. If you notice any changes, you absolutely must get checked. That means every single time.
Remember, you must become familiar with your own body before you will ever be able to notice lumps or changes. Take your time and start memorizing what you feel during your monthly exams. Be in total control of your self diagnosis by learning about yourself as much as possible, especially during the first few exams. Otherwise, you run the risk of counteracting this life saving habit.