Whether you’re years away from your first mammogram (doctors recommend getting your first at age 40) or you’re in between annual appointments, it’s important that you conduct your own breast exams at home as a preventative. When it comes to breast cancer, your best defense is a really good offense.
Think of it this way: the more often you do at-home exams, the more likely you’d be to find an abnormal change in your breasts. We’re breaking down the at-home exam — which can ultimately decrease the stage of diagnosis — and we promise, it’s actually not as daunting as it sounds.
Do them monthly
Like we said, the more often you do it, the better you get to know your body and the sooner you can catch any changes. Get in the habit of checking in with your breasts once per month, preferably at least a week after your period — fluctuating hormones during your menstrual cycle can cause inconsistencies in your breasts — this is when they’re less lumpy).
If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, your ever-changing hormones will cause your breasts to become bigger and lumpier than usual. This is important to keep in mind while you continue to do your monthly exams, but you should still consult your OBGYN if you come across any distinct lumps, abnormal firmness, or red and inflamed areas.
Do them in the shower
After you’ve lathered up, it’ll be easier to glide along the breasts and feel what’s under the surface. Raise your left arm and use the pads of your fingers on your right hand to feel your left breast. Applying firm pressure, start under your armpit, then drag fingers straight down the side of your breast. Next, run your fingers up and over your breasts to the chest. Continue this up-and-down motion while you work your way in toward the center of your chest. Finish by feeling all over the breast in a circular motion, then repeat on the other side.
Try it lying down
If you prefer, you can also choose to conduct your breast exams while lying down — it really just comes down to preference. While you’re lying in bed, place a pillow under your shoulders and fold one arm behind your head. With the pads of your fingers press firmly on the opposite breast. Work in circular motions as you as you move in an up-and-down pattern across your breast, starting on the outside, under your armpit and working your way toward the center of the chest.
Check the mirror
Aside from feeling for lumps, it’s important to check for changes in the look and shape of your breasts, including dimpling of the skin and inverted nipples. While looking in the mirror, check for changes with your arms at your side, raised above your head, and while bending over.
If you think you feel something, don’t panic
Women naturally have lumps in their breasts and they often are benign (non cancerous). If you find that you have naturally lumpy breasts, keep a journal of your irregularities with dates. Remember, as you are menstruating, it’s normal for lumps to appear and disappear — a journal will help you keep track of these changes. Consult your doctor if you find a lump that seems bigger or more prominent in some way and lasts more than a full menstrual cycle.