Home Breast Exams: The Key to Early Cancer Detection
Approximately one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer. Cancer of the breast is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in American women except for skin cancer. It is also responsible for more deaths than any other cancer besides lung cancer. A simple home breast exam can help you detect cancer early and increase your odds of survival.
Several factors are known to increase a woman’s risk of developing cancer of the breast. The most common risk factors include:
- Gender—Both men and women can develop cancer of the breast; however, the vast majority of cases are diagnosed in women.
- Age—Two-thirds of breast cancer cases are diagnosed in women over age 55, making it a significant senior health concern.
- Family history—You have a higher risk if you have a first-degree female relative with the cancer.
- Genetics—Faulty genes passed from parent to child may be responsible for about ten percent of breast cancers.
The Importance of Breast Self-Exams
A monthly breast self-exam is the quickest way to detect lumps and other abnormalities. The technique is simple and only takes a few minutes:
- Visually inspect your breasts. You should not see any dimpling, sores, discoloration, or nipple discharge.
- While you are in the shower, feel for any lumps or thickening in each armpit.
- Check for any lumps or thickening above or below your collar bones.
- With one arm raised behind your head, use the flat part of your fingers to press gently into your breast. You can move in a clockwise or up-and-down pattern. Make sure you cover the entire breast and repeat on each side.
What to Look For
You should see your doctor immediately if you see any of the following:
- An area that feels different from the rest of your breast.
- Any lump or thickening that remains through your menstrual cycle.
- Any changes in the appearance of the skin of your breasts.
- Any nipple discharge.
- Any change to shape, contour, or size of your breasts.
- Any lumps or masses. These often feel like a pea or marble.
A healthy lifestyle can reduce your risk of breast and other types of cancer:
- Stop smoking.
- Limit alcohol.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Be physically active.
- Limit hormone therapy.
- Limit exposure to radiation.
- Breast feed if possible.
Of course, you should follow your doctor’s recommendations regarding annual mammograms.