Great question – especially during Breast Cancer Awareness Month!
At-home breast exams should be done whenever possible so that you get a good feel for what is “normal” for your breasts. If you do regular self-exams, you are much more likely to notice any changes in your breasts sooner, rather than later. A good rule of thumb is to check at least once per month. Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, according to Johns Hopkins Medical center.
The easiest time to do it is when you are in the shower, as the water and soap can make it easier for you to examine yourself. Using the pads of your fingers, move around your entire breast in a circular pattern moving from the outside to the center, checking the entire breast and armpit area. Feel for any lumps, thickening, or hardened knots. The best time to do it is after your period since your breast tissue can be tender before and during your period, making examining uncomfortable. If you do feel anything out of the ordinary, make sure to be examined by your doctor right away.
It is really important to remember that you shouldn’t rely on at-home breast exams. What has been found is that sometimes, women self-examine often and believe that nothing is wrong, so they put off their regular annual exams and mammograms because they feel confident that they are healthy. Mammography can actually detect tumors before they can be felt, so screening is key for early detection
At-home self-exams should NOT replace your actual doctors’ visits, but instead serve as a way for you to develop a good awareness of your breast health so you know if you need to report any changes to your doctor before your next annual exam or breast exam. Like with any cancer, early detection is key.
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