American Cancer Society Recommendations for Early Breast Cancer Detection: Doctors recommend you begin practicing breast self-examination (BSE) as soon as your breasts start developing. This will help you become familiar with your normal breast structure and to learn to notice any unusual changes. If you have no breast cancer symptoms, your doctor should examine your breasts every 3 years if you are between 20 and 40 years of age and every year for those over the age of 40. Women should have a baseline screening mammogram by age 40, and a follow-up mammogram every 1-2 years from age 40-49 and every year for women age 50 and over. Women with a personal or family history of breast cancer should consult their physician about more frequent exams or mammograms.
If a change occurs, such as development of a lump or swelling, skin irritation or dimpling, nipple pain or retraction (turning inward), redness or scaliness on the nipple or breast skin, or a discharge other than breast milk, you should see your health care provider as soon as possible for evaluation.
Experienced health care professionals can examine the breast and determine whether the changes you have noticed are most likely benign or whether there is a possibility they may be due to breast cancer. They can determine when additional tests are appropriate to rule out a cancer and when follow-up exams are the best strategy. If there is any suspicion of cancer, a biopsy will be recommended.
The best time for a BSE is about a week after your menstrual period starts, because your breasts are not tender or swollen at that time.
# Lie down, put a pillow under your right shoulder, and your right hand behind your head. Gently massage and feel your breast for lumps or other changes.
# Use the finger pads of the three middle fingers on your left hand to feel for lumps in the right breast. Press firmly enough to know how your breast feels. A firm ridge in the lower curve of each breast is normal. If you are not sure how hard to press, talk with your doctor or nurse.
# Repeat with towel under left shoulder with left hand behind head.
# Stand in front of a mirror. Look for any changes such as puckering, changes in size or shape, dimpling, or changes in your skin texture.
# Look for changes to the shape or texture of your nipples. Gently squeeze each nipple and look for discharge or blood.
# Repeat these steps with your hands on your hips, over your head, and at your side.
# Raise your right arm and examine every part of your left breast. Move in increasingly smaller circles, from the outside in, using the pads of your index and middle fingers.
# Gently press and feel for lumps or thickenings of the breast area and outside your breast, such as under your arm.
# Using body cream, if necessary, continue to circle and gently massage the area outside your breast and under your arm.
# Repeat with your left arm and right breast.