EVERY woman should know how to perform a breast self-exam (BSE), as this is key to spotting changes in the breasts. Before you start, though, it is important that you know how your breasts normally look and feel, so you can easily detect changes.
You don't have to have a fixed schedule to do your BSE, but it is good to practise doing it regularly, at least once per month. The more you do it, the more aware you will be of your breasts, and it will be much easier to spot if there are any changes. The best time to do your BSE is when your breasts are not tender or swollen, such as a few days after your period ends.
If you happen to feel a lump, don't immediately think that it's the end of the world. Some women have lumpy areas in their breasts all the time. Not every lump is cancerous, but to be on the safe side, bring it to your doctor's attention.
Here are four steps to doing your BSE.
Step 1 -- in front of a mirror
Get in front of a mirror. Look at your breasts with your arms at your sides, so you know how they look. Raise your arms over your head, and look for swelling, dimpling, or nipple changes. Next, put your arms akimbo, flex your chest muscles, and again look for dimpling or changes in the breasts.
Step 2 -- shower
In the shower, raise one arm above your head and use the pad of your three middle fingers to gently apply pressure to your breast. Rotate the fingers over your breast and armpit area, feeling for any lumps, thickening or hard knots. Increase the pressure to feel a little deeper for the tissue closest to the chest.
Step 3 -- lying down
This is probably the best method to check for changes, as the breast tissue spreads out evenly when you're lying down. Put a pillow under one shoulder with that arm beneath your head. Use the fingers of the other arm in a rotating motion to check the breast and the armpit. Squeeze the nipple and check for lumps and discharge. Be sure to check the entire breast area going down until you feel only ribs and up to the neck or collar bone.
Conducting a BSE is not effective unless you know just what you are looking for. Any signs of the following are red flags and a doctor should immediately be consulted:
Bulging of the skin
Inverted nipple -- pushed inward instead of sticking out
Redness, soreness, rash or swelling
Any signs of fluid -- be it watery, milky or bloody.