How are you taking care of yourself lately? Working from home may have given us a bit of Zoom fatigue, but don’t let the new normal stop you from prioritizing your health. Check in on yourself to make sure you’re drinking enough water, taking a second away from work to breathe, and going on that daily walk. Oh also, have you checked your breast for lumps? Yes, taking a peek at your breasts for any lumps or abnormal coloring is essential for your health. Doctors recommend that adult women of all ages should perform a breast self-exam once a month.
One out of every eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and more than 40,000 women are estimated to die from the disease in 2020 alone. In addition to getting a mammogram, let’s open our eyes to the urgency of self-checking for signs and symptoms of breast cancer at home.
When to start your self-exam
Checking for lumps on your breasts can be as easy as brushing your teeth or following your every day skin care routine. The best time to perform a breast self-exam is about 3-5 days after your period, because your breasts will least likely be swollen or tender. While it might seem overwhelming at first, these steps can help reduce your risk of breast cancer, and it will become a breeze once you self-exam once a month. For women who are going through menopause, start the breast self-exam on the same day of each month.
What to look for:
- The overall appearance: size, shape, color, and position
- Redness, swelling, and puckering on the skin
- Nipple discharge
- Sores or rashes
- Lump, knot, or thickening in the breast or armpit area
- Increased sensitivity or pain
How to self-check for lumps
Look for visual changes in front of a mirror
Start by standing in front of a mirror with your arms relaxed by your sides, then shift your arms overhead to inspect again. Next, rest your hands on your hips and flex your chest to evaluate one more time. These different steps will help examine your breasts and nipples for any changes.
Feel for lumps in the shower
Checking for symptoms in the shower is easy. Use the soft pad of your three middle fingers to feel your breasts. You want to start gently in a circular motion at the outer edge of the breast, and work your way toward the nipple. Repeat this motion on both breasts using a medium and firm pressure. You want to feel for any lump, thickening, hardened knot or any other breast changes.
Inspect while lying down
Place a pillow under your right shoulder and use your right hand to hold your head. With your left hand, use the soft pad of your three middle fingers to feel all around your breasts. Also, gently squeeze the nipple to check for any discharge.
Talk to your doctor
Don’t panic if you find a lump! Most breast lumps are non-cancerous, which is why you should talk to your doctor first after your self-examination. Once you’ve found the lump, grab a marker or pen to mark a X on the spot to identify the location when it’s time to show your physician.
Reduce your risk of breast cancer
Risk factors such as family history can’t change, but there are lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk.
For women who are overweight or obese, excess fat can increase the the body’s estrogen level. Studies suggest that high levels of estrogen may increase your risk of breast cancer. Moving your body and incorporating a healthier diet might help lower that particular risk.
Repeated observational studies have found that there could be a connection between drinking alcohol and an increased cancer risk, but researchers aren’t exactly sure why (though they do have some ideas). If you don’t want to give up drinking entirely, cutting back can help keep you healthier.
Research has shown that smoking can damage the lungs and is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer in younger, premenopausal women. When you’re ready to stop smoking, get as much support as you need and avoid triggers.
Improving your diet can be a big step to a healthier lifestyle. Eating a variety of foods and trying to eat more fruits and vegetables (they don’t have to be fresh!) can help you up the nutrients you’re getting. Focusing on a balanced diet may help lower your risk of cancer—and it’ll definitely boost your overall health.
Know your body
Self-care is incredibly valuable for your physical and mental well-being. Even though we all lead busy lives, it’s important to set some time for yourself and truly take good care—and that includes preventative health to-do’s like knowing what’s normal for your body. Whether it’s one hour or even just a few minutes in the day, take the time to understand, love, and care for your body. Knowing what’s normal can help you more easily pick up on changes, which could end up being nothing, but are important to keep an eye on and bring up with your doctor.
Get informed about your health
Talk to your doctor about any medical questions or concerns that you may have. You can always ask them whatever questions you need, even if you think the question is “dumb” (we can pretty much assure you that it’s not). If you’re not sure whether or not you’ll remember any questions you might have, write them down and bring them with you. And if you’re concerned that you won’t have questions immediately, but will have some after your appointment is over, ask your doctor how you can best ask those questions so that you’ll get the answers you need. As you get older, your body changes, and it’s OK to speak to a physician about your healthcare needs.
Make an appointment for a mammogram
In addition to your self breast exam, you need to prepare for a mammogram with your physician. According to the American Cancer Society, women ages 40-44 should start getting a breast cancer screening every year if they’d like to, but those ages 45 and above should get one each year.
Note to self: check your breasts
Setting a reminder every month on your phone or daily planner can help you early detect any signs or symptoms of breast cancer. If you know your body and check your breasts regularly, you’ll be able to catch on to any changes sooner rather than later. For any concerns or questions about your health, make an appointment to speak with your doctor.
Check out the resources below to learn more about breast cancer: