One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. Early detection can be a life-saver—literally—for treatment and recovery. (Here is more information about breast cancer symptoms and breast cancer treatment.)
Doctors recommend having physical breast exams every two or three years in your 30s and 40s, and an annual exam if you’re 50 or older; however, a self examination at home can bridge the gap in between check-ins with your ob-gyn. That means you’ll be even more likely to detect breast cancer symptoms early.
Here are the steps to perform a breast self exam at home:
Look at your breasts in the mirror with your arms at your side. Monitor for changes in the size, shape, texture, and color of your breasts. (Remember, it’s totally normal to have breasts that are two different sizes or shapes.) Repeat this examination with your hands raised over your head, and with your hands on your hips, flexing your chest muscles.
Gently squeeze each nipple between your thumb and forefinger. No liquid should discharge (unless you are breastfeeding).
Lie down and do a physical examination. Raise one arm over your head and use the alternate hand to feel the breast. Use the pads of the three middle fingers and make dime-sized circular movements, covering every part of the breast and repeating with different levels of pressure. Repeat with the other breast (using the alternate hand).
Repeat the same physical examination while standing up.
If you notice any changes in your breasts or find something that seems unusual during your breast self exam, talk to your doctor. It might be a false alarm, but it is important to be 100 percent sure before shrugging it off.