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The Importance of Performing Regular Breast Checks

About once a year it seems everything turns pink. There's a lot of attention paid to making sure women are aware of breast cancer and then we move on in some ways. The holidays come up on the calendar followed by a new year and it can feel like that hyper awareness to breast cancer ends up naturally fading. It's probably no surprise that the majority of cases of breast cancer aren't diagnosed in the month of October, and that breast cancer is a year-round concern for the millions of women (and men) across the country that live with this disease every single day.

So too, our self-checks and hyper attention to keeping an eye on our own health can't be important for just one month or one week. Which is why we want to take a moment to highlight the importance of monthly breast self-exams.

It's a compelling fact that 40% of breast cancer cases are found by women performing routine self-checks who feel a lump. This number is actually only a few percentage points behind mammography. And while mammography and ultrasound can detect breast cancer before a lump is outwardly present, self-checks can help you establish what is happening with your breast health and help you become familiar with what is normal with the look and feel so you can better alert your healthcare professional.

So how and where can you perform a breast self-check? Here are some great ways to stay on top of this important measure of your health.

1.) In the Shower Using the pads of your fingers, move around your entire breast in a circular pattern from the outside to the center of your breast. Be sure to check the entire breast, including the armpit area. Check both breasts each month, feeling for any lumps, thickening or hardened knots. Note any changes and get any lumps evaluated or examined by your healthcare provider.

2.) In Front of a Mirror

Start with your arms at your sides and visually inspect your breasts. Next, raise your arms above your head. Look for any changes in the contours and also look for any swelling or dimpling of the skin. Next, rest your palms on your hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles. Left and right breasts will not exactly match—few women's breasts do, so look for any dimpling, puckering, or changes, particularly on one side.

3.) Lying Down

When you lie down, your breast tissue spreads evenly along your chest wall. Place a pillow under your shoulder and lift that same arm behind your head, then use the pads of your fingers in gentle circular motions covering the entire breast area. Use light, medium, and firm pressure. Squeeze the nipple; check for discharge and lumps. Then repeat on the opposite side.

If you find anything you feel needs to be noted, examined or evaluated by your healthcare professional, be sure to reach out while it is still on your mind. As you routinely check you will become more adept at noting any changes. Keep in mind that while mammograms are usually recommended for most women over the age of 40, breast self-checks are encouraged for all ages of women.

Have questions? Our Radiology and Mammography team at Memorial Hospital of Converse County has great handouts you can actually keep in your shower to help you remember and go through the visual steps each month for your breast self-check!