Self Examinations of Breasts: What to Look For

It is inadvisable to get mammograms more than once a year, but monthly self-exams are recommended.

Responsible people understand the importance of nutrition, exercise, sleep and stress management to promote better health. But women by and large know to be vigilant about something else: the need to detect breast cancer as early as possible. The earlier cancer is discovered the greater the likelihood of successful treatment. 

Certainly preventive breast screenings in a doctor’s office are a part of early cancer detection. But some healthcare plans and doctors do not routinely provide these before the age of 40 and in some instances not until age 50. When they do screen, it is with mammograms that use radiation. This makes many people uncomfortable for a reason: studies found that 16 in 100,000 women actually contract cancer attributable to the radiation in mammograms. 

So if you are too young to qualify for in-office exams from your doctor, or if you are trying to avoid radiation exposure from too-frequent mammograms, you might be searching for an alternative. That could start with a self-exam, the ultimate no-radiation breast screening technique that costs nothing and can identify something that needs further investigation by a qualified health professional.

Self-exam techniques involve touch (while lying down, or in the shower), using pads of the fingers and hands to apply light pressure to the breasts. It is also a visual process, facing a mirror and lifting hands over head, hands placed down on the hips, and lifting the breasts together.

A self-exam can identify the following:

By touch, a lump is not necessarily cancer and in fact is common and may be affected by the person’s menstrual cycle. But this is why a regular schedule (a week after your period ends in pre-menopausal women, when the breasts are least tender) is smart because you can detect changes over time. A hard lump or knot near the underarm warrants making an appointment with your doctor. Any kind of thickening or prominent fullness that differs from surrounding tissue is also of concern.

Visually, dimples, bulges, ridges and puckers on the skin should be examined more closely. So too are changes in the nipple, such as an inversion (pushed in) when it previously stuck out. 

Other things to visually or physically observe are redness, warmth, swelling or pain, bloody nipple discharge, itching, sores, rashes or scaling. 

In addition to self-exams, a thermography screening might identify temperature increases, which isn’t always noticeable in a self-exam.

Beyond self-exams and in-office screenings, women are advised to consider family cancer histories, lifestyle factors (smoking, alcohol use, weight gain, lack of exercise) and environmental or workplace exposure to toxins.

Contact us today at 805-560-7602 to schedule your appointment and achieve the peace of mind that comes with early health awareness and prevention.


Disclaimer: The content on this page and on this website is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek out the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any concerns you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking professional medical advice because of any information you have read on this website.