You may be years away from your first mammogram, but experts still recommend that you get to know your breasts -- how they look and how they feel -- starting right now. What's the urgency? Though only 5 percent of breast cancers occur in women under 40, women of all ages can experience breast lumps, pain, or nipple discharge.
Your best defense against breast cancer is a good offense. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, you should examine your breasts once a month, get a breast exam from your ob-gyn at least once a year, and begin mammograms at age 40.
Our demos gives you an easy way to get started! To do a thorough self-examination, you need to do each of the following steps.
Step 1: In the Shower
Wet, soapy hands makes it easier to slide your fingers over your skin and feel what's beneath the surface.
1. Use your right hand to examine your left breast, and your left hand to examine your right breast.
2. Holding your fingers flat, move the pads of the fingers gently over every part of each breast. Move fingers in small circles in an up-and-down pattern over the breast.
3. Check for any lump, hard knot, or thickening. Carefully observe any changes in your breast.
Step 2: Lying Down
1. Place a pillow under your right shoulder, and fold your right arm behind your head.
2. With the pads of your fingers of the left hand, press right breast gently in small circular motions, moving in an up-and-down pattern across your whole breast. Use a combination of light and firm pressure.
3. Don't neglect to gently check your nipple for lumps.
4. Repeat these steps for your left breast, beginning by placing the pillow under your left shoulder.
Step 3: In front of a Mirror
Check for changes in the look and or shape of your breasts, including skin changes such as dimpling or nipple discharge. Continue to watch your breasts carefully as you
1. Stand with your arms relaxed at your sides.
2. Raise your arms overhead.
3. Place your hands on your hips and flex your chest muscles firmly.
4. Bend forward.
Right and left breasts may not match exactly -- most women's don't.
5 Surprising Facts About Breast Self-Exams
1. Timing is important. Examine your breasts seven to ten days after your period starts, when they're less lumpy.
2. Size matters. It should take a C-cup woman twice as long to examine her breasts as it does an A-cup woman.
3. Comparison is key. Found a nodular mass in one breast? If you notice the same grainy texture in a similar area in the other breast, it could be your normal tissue.
4. You shouldn't squeeze your nipples. Doctors now know that discharge is a perfectly normal response to nipple massage.
5. Breast tissue extends up into the armpits, around the side and toward the collarbone, so don't neglect those areas.
Pregnant or Breastfeeding?
Hormones skyrocket during pregnancy. That means your breasts get bigger and lumpier and just generally feel doughy, especially during your first trimester, and later, while you're breast-feeding. During pregnancy, breasts can double in weight, and blood flow to the area increases by 180 percent. How can you tell worrisome changes from normal ones during this time of frantic breast growth? Do a monthly breast self-exam. Bring any strange finding -- a distinct lump, an area of firmness, a red or inflamed section of the breast, or anything new that you haven't felt before -- to your ob-gyn's attention.