Friday, June 4, 2010

Tips for Monthly Breast Exams

We all know the importance of doing monthly self-examinations as an early warning of breast cancer but, even if we remember to do the breast exams on a regular basis, did you know that many of us are not doing them properly? I spoke with Dr. Eden Takhsh, a Chicago-based ob-gyn. He kindly shared the following five tips:
It’s very important to do your self-exam at the right time of the month. If you examine your breasts just before your period, they will probably feel lumpier because of hormonal changes. The best time to examine them is just after your period has finished. Whenever you choose to do the breast exam, it is also important to do it at the same time every month. That way, you will be used to any fluctuations that happen with your menstrual cycle.
Most women forget to check the lymph nodes under their arms. These glands are the primary drainage sites from the breast and will become swollen and tender if there is any ongoing inflammation.
Don’t forget to check your nipples. Be gentle! This should not be a painful experience. Squeeze each nipple just hard enough to check for any discharge. If there is any irregular discharge, see your doctor. What’s irregular? Are you breast feeding? If the answer is no, then the discharge is irregular, and while it may not be cancer-related, you certainly want to have it checked out.
Look in the mirror while you are doing your breast exams. We all have slightly asymmetrical breasts – one bigger, one higher, etc. Checking your reflection in the mirror will help you become familiar with what is normal for your breast. Take note of any changes in position or size, as well as the shape of the nipple.
Remember to do a self-exam every month. It sounds so simple, but it’s easy to put it off or think you can skip a month and, before you know it, you’re out of the habit. By doing regular breast exams, you’ll notice any abnormalities more easily, which in turn means you can provide your physician with more helpful information. Dr. Takhsh recommends beginning a monthly self-exam routine after having your annual physical so you have a normal baseline to begin with.

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