October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

It’s the question every doctor asks at your annual checkup: Do you do breast self-exams? If you’re like many women, your answer may be “no.” Performing breast self-exams is a habit that could save your life. In fact, 40% of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, according to Johns Hopkins Medical Center.

This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, commit to doing this important exam once a month. The best time to do a breast self-exam is two or three days after your period ends, when your breasts are least likely to be tender or swollen. If you no longer menstruate, pick a day such as the first day of each month and consistently do your breast exam then.

Here’s how it’s done:

1. Stand in front of a mirror. Check both breasts for anything unusual, such as any discharge from the nipples or puckering, dimpling or scaling of the skin.

The next two steps are designed to emphasize any change in the shape or contour of your breasts. As you do them, you should be able to feel your chest muscles tighten.

2. Watch closely in the mirror, as you clasp your hands behind your head and press your hands forward.

3. Next, press your hands firmly on your hips and bow slightly toward your mirror as you push your shoulders and elbows forward.

4. Raise your left arm. Use three or four fingers of your right hand to feel your left breast firmly, carefully and thoroughly. Beginning at the outer edge, press the flat part of your fingers in small circles, moving the circles slowly around the breast. Gradually work toward the nipple. Be sure to cover the entire breast. Pay special attention to the area between the breast and the underarm, including the underarm itself. Feel for any unusual lump or mass under the skin.

5. Gently squeeze the nipple and look for discharge. If you have any discharge during the month – whether or not it is during breast self-examination – see your doctor immediately.

Repeat steps 4 and 5 on your right breast.

6. Steps 4 and 5 also should be repeated lying down. Lie flat on your back with your left arm over your head and a pillow or rolled towel under your left shoulder. This position flattens the breast and makes it easier to examine. Use the same circular motion described earlier.

Repeat the exam on your right breast. Performing breast self-exams may be difficult to remember, but this preventive habit is certainly worth remembering. A few minutes each month could save your life.