How to Give Yourself a Breast Exam at Home

A 5 step program to check yourself for breast cancer every month

With marathons, pink magnetic ribbons for the backs of our cars, T-shirts and special events, it’s hard to miss breast cancer awareness these days, but it’s easy to miss a breast cancer exam. So we wear our pink shirts to work, donate a few dollars and maybe walk in a relay or two — but often we forget to take the step that could actually save us from becoming yet another breast cancer victim.

According to the American Cancer Society, women should begin to do breast cancer exams on themselves when they reach their 20s. While a monthly breast exam is one way to notice any changes, the American Cancer Society states that women can also simply practice cancer awareness by knowing their breasts and what changes may have occurred. Conducting a female breast exam is not difficult, but following these steps can make it easier.

Step 1: Lie down

In the past, women have been taught to do the breast cancer exam while in the shower. However, this actually is not the best way to examine your breasts. According to the American Cancer Society, lying down makes the tissue spread out evenly and thinly, which means you can easily feel for lumps everywhere.

Step 2: Position yourself and feel for lumps

Place your right hand behind your head, and use your left hand to feel for lumps on the right breast. The American Cancer Society recommends using the pads of your fingers and making small circular motions. You want to make sure to feel all of the breast, so following a pattern can help you make sure you don’t miss a spot. In addition, be sure to check easy-to-forget areas, like under the arms.

Step 3: Repeat on the other side

Repeat the procedure from step two on your left breast by putting your left hand behind your head and using your right hand to feel for lumps.

Step 4: Do a visual exam

In addition to feeling for lumps, you should always examine your breasts carefully in the mirror as part of the monthly breast exam, according to the American Cancer Society. In Kristin Hannah’s popular novel Firefly Lane, the author raises awareness for breast cancer that doesn’t manifest as a lump, but rather a discoloration. Be sure you’re noting for anything odd or out of the ordinary.

Step 5: Report your findings

After doing a full breast exam, report anything out of the ordinary to a doctor. You just might have swollen glands or an age spot, but it’s much better to be safe than sorry.

Tips and warnings

The American Cancer society suggests doing the underarm portion of the exam while standing up or sitting down to make feeling easier. Don’t put off telling your doctor about any lumps, as cancer caught in the early stages is much easier to cure in most cases. Even if you think you have reason to be experiencing a swollen breast, talk to a doctor or health professional.

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