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Here’s How to Do a Self-Breast Exam

At-home wellness screenings are essential for helping you catch health issues early. You might have invested in an inexpensive blood pressure cuff or a scale that measures your body composition to ensure you stay within an ideal range. However, are you also diligent about performing monthly self-breast exams?

According to breastcancer.org, approximately 13% of U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetime. Along with annual mammograms if you are over 40, monthly self-breast exams are one smart step you can take to ensure you don’t become part of this statistic. Here’s a detailed outline of how to conduct a self-breast exam.

Step 1: Visual Exam

Start by looking at your breasts in the mirror. Stand with good posture and put your hands on your hips. Ensure your breasts, nipples, and areolas are their typical shape, size, and color. They should be approximately symmetrical, with no swelling or distortions. Check for any signs of discharge from one or both your nipples – this could include blood or a watery, milky, yellowish fluid.

After completing this portion of the visual exam, raise your arms straight over your head and look for the same issues. If you see any of these changes during your visual inspection, schedule a checkup with your doctor as soon as possible.

  • Dimpled, puckered, or bulging skin
  • An unusual nipple position or inversion
  • Redness, soreness, rash, or swelling

Step 2: Feel for Lumps or Irregularities

Next, lie flat on your back and put one arm behind your head. With the index, middle, and ring fingers of your free hand, gently feel the opposite breast. Use a firm, smooth touch, keeping your fingers together. Move in a circular motion, approximately the size of a quarter.

To ensure you cover the entire breast from top to bottom and side to side, follow a pattern. If you choose, you can start at your nipple and move outward in gradually expanding circles. Or, you might prefer to move your fingers in vertical rows as if you were vacuuming a carpet. Once you finish checking one breast, switch sides and feel the other using the same method.

Step 3: Shower Self-Exam

Finally, feel your breasts while you are standing or sitting up. You might find it easiest to complete the palpation portion of the self-exam in the shower, when your skin is slippery. Thoroughly check both breasts, using the same hand motions described above.

Additional Wellness Concerns for Women With Breast Implants

Breast health screenings are particularly essential for women with breast implants. While modern breast implants are high-quality medical devices that have undergone extensive testing to ensure their safety, your implants might still rupture and leak.

It will be evident when a saline-filled breast implant develops a leak, because the breast with the ruptured implant will look deflated. However, with silicone implants, there is a risk of a phenomenon called a “silent rupture,” in which the surrounding tissue traps the silicone and no immediately apparent symptoms are present.

The FDA recommends women with silicone implants get MRI screenings to detect silent ruptures three years after their original surgery and every two years after that. You can also continue getting mammograms and doing monthly self-breast exams as usual.

Caring for Your Breast Health

Breast self-exams are a convenient, free tool that can benefit women of any age, especially if you have a family history of breast cancer. If you think you feel a lump or bump in one of your breasts, don’t panic. Most of these small irregularities prove to be benign. However, for your ultimate peace of mind, schedule a checkup with your OB/GYN or general practitioner.

At the Virginia Center for Plastic Surgery, we are here to answer all your questions about how to achieve your cosmetic goals and live a healthy lifestyle. Contact us today to arrange a complimentary consultation with our experienced, board-certified surgeon, Dr. Eric Desman.