Breast Self Exams

By Natasha Polak

For Bangari: Woman’s Health Content

Self-Examining Your Body

When it comes to your body, you want to be vigilant, proactive, and informed.  Otherwise, you face the risk of diseases and other health conditions.  An easy way for women and men to be healthy overall is to be in tune with your body.  This means checking all over your body for signs of unexplainable sores, lumps, bruises, and swellings, in addition to regular medical exams.  While much of what happens on the surface of the skin is due to wear-and-tear of skin cells as we move around each day – such as by drying out our hands from frequent hand- washing, or having ingrown hairs or oily skin that causes inflammation and acne.  And just about everyone bumps into something on occasion, or falls, and suffers bruises, scrapes, and cuts.  Accidents are part of life, and the body is remarkable in that most of the time it can heal itself.

Breast Self Exams

It’s when you notice any abnormalities that you have to take action before they get worse.  Men, more than women will be the first to report any changes they notice in their breasts.   For many women, however, mentioning problems or concerns about the breasts is taboo or embarrassing, and easy for underlying problems to turn into health crises.  For that reason, women need to do more than just notice changes in their breasts, as visual abnormalities on the surface of the skin may only be present as malignant cells or tumors metastasize.  At that point, it may be harder to treat.  Physically inspecting the breasts for swelling, growths, and changes in shape or skin is necessary on a monthly basis, from teens to post-menopausal women alike.  The best time to do so is roughly a week after you have menstruated, before ovulation.  This will give breast tissue the chance to heal from hormonally-induced swelling and possible cysts that may occur in between the time of ovulating and the onset of a period.  Performing a thorough breast self exam includes inspecting your breasts in mirror, in the shower, and lying down.  Don’t just rely on one method alone to ensure the health of your breasts!  Having had two benign Phylloides tumors, I can tell you that this is crucial to alerting you when something is wrong.  That was how I found my first tumor, when I was still new at doing a breast self exam!  Unfortunately, my second tumor was completely hidden from my observation, and ONLY showed up on my mammogram.  Therefore, self exams and mammograms should be performed for all women of child-bearing age and beyond (or at least starting at age 30 if there is no history of problems before then).

 

Breast Self Exam Video

Breast Tissue

As you inspect each breast, notice the way they feel.  Some areas of tissue are fatty and dense, or feel even moreso because of the rib cage, while other areas that are more fibrous may resemble grains of sand to the touch.  Shallow lumps may be more visible in fibrous areas, but even in dense tissue, lumps may be observed due to breast shape changes.  The one I felt was hard, but rubbery – because I could move it around with my fingers.  Lumps should be watched for a few weeks, to see if they disappear on their own.  If it has been longer than one full menstrual cycle, and if accompanied by puckering, dimpling, redness, or tenderness, discharge from the nipple or from an open lesion on the breasts, you should contact your doctor as soon as possible for an examination.  I went to my doctor after my lump persisted after one month.

Other factors that can affect how your breasts look and feel include: pregnancy, puberty, menopause, scar tissue from previous surgeries, and the use of contraceptives.  The bottom-line: watch and feel for changes and report them in a timely manner to your doctor before it’s too late!

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