Spot the Warning Signs of Breast Cancer with Regular Self-Exams

Breast self-exams remain an important way to detect breast cancer, a disease that kills more than 40,000 women in the United States each year. Learning how to perform a breast self-exam and understanding early symptoms can help identify breast cancer early when it’s easier to treat.

What is a breast self-exam?

A breast self-exam is a way to inspect the breasts to catch early signs of breast cancer. This involves feeling the breast with both hands while standing and lying down. Breast self-exams are a tool for developing breast self-awareness. It helps you become familiar with how your breast tissue normally feels, so that you can take prompt action if you notice that something is off.

Some signs of breast cancer include:

Why are breast self-exams important?

Increased use of breast cancer screening tools such as mammograms and MRIs help to detect breast cancer early. Despite this, more than 40% of women who survived breast cancer found it themselves, either by accident or from a breast self-exam. This makes breast self-exams a crucial tool for improving breast cancer survival. Becoming familiar with what your breasts look and feel like can help you recognize early symptoms of breast cancer.

How to check your breasts

Breast tissue is naturally lumpy, making it vital to know the difference between normal breast tissue and potentially cancerous tissue. Lumps that turn out to be cancer typically feel harder than normal breast texture. There probably isn’t much to worry about if the consistency of the breast feels the same throughout.

It helps to feel around the breasts and become familiar with their normal texture. Every woman is different, and some women have breasts that are naturally lumpier than others. The best way to check the breasts is to move your fingers gently around the breast in a circular motion applying light, medium, and firm pressure, being sure to cover the entire area. The skilled OB/GYNs at Capital Women’s Care -- Drs. Andrea Williams, Sandra Caskie, Michele Berkeley and Alexis Light -- routinely teach patients how to give themselves a breast self-exam.

Spotting signs of breast cancer

You should contact your provider whenever your breast tissue changes or feels different. While some changes are harmless -- for example, noncancerous cysts can develop, and they’re typically movable and fluid-filled -- it’s worth getting the opinion of a medical professional if you detect something different.

Red flags to watch out for are hard lumps, abnormal discharge, shape changes, nipple inversion, and skin dimpling. Another red flag is an area of the breast that feels different than the rest. Any new changes to your breast tissue should be evaluated by a doctor. 

Become familiar with normal breast tissue

It’s recommended that women perform a breast self-exam once a month because doing so increases awareness of what is normal for you. It’s a good idea to perform your monthly exam at the same time each month, too, because breast tissue may change throughout the month based on your menstrual cycle. Women who haven’t gone through menopause should perform a breast self-exam roughly 7-10 days after their menstrual cycle. 

Women of all ages are encouraged to perform regular breast self-exams as part of preventive health care. At Capital Women’s Care, we compassionately guide patients through all stages of womanhood. To schedule an appointment with one of our providers, call one of our offices in Arlington, Virginia (571-206-8830) or McLean, Virginia (571-210-5596). Or you can schedule an appointment online while you’re here on the website. 

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