A woman’s breasts are constantly changing. They change throughout the menstrual cycle, when breastfeeding, during pregnancy and in menopause. Most breast changes are not cause for concern. But you should know how your breasts look and feel normally so you can detect any changes that might indicate a problem. One way that can be done is through regular breast self-exams.
1. Breast self-exams to aid in the detection of breast cancer are considered optional by the American Cancer Society. Rather, you should be familiar with the normal consistency of your breasts and underlying tissue so you can be aware of any abnormal lumps or other changes. You should, however, get a regularly scheduled mammogram and clinical breast exam, which are recommended to help detect breast cancer.
2. Breast problems usually are benign, such as fibrocystic changes, cysts (fluid-filled sacs), or fibroadenomas (solid lumps). Most women have lumps or changes in their breasts that fluctuate during their menstrual cycles. This is normal, as is a firm ridge along the bottom of each breast. Breasts also may feel different in different places.
3. You can still perform breast self-exams even if you have breast implants. You may want to ask your doctor to help identify the edges of the implants so you know what you are feeling. A woman who is pregnant or breastfeeding also can perform regular breast self-exams.
4. The best time to do a breast self-exam is on a monthly basis, usually about three to five days after the end of your period when your breasts are less tender or swollen. If you do not have a period, try to remember to do the exam on the same day every month.
5. Changes to look out for during a breast self-exam that you would need to talk to your doctor about include:
- Dimples, puckers, ridges or bulges of skin on the breast
- A nipple that turns in rather than sticks out
- Skin that itches, or has scales, sores or rashes
- Discharge from the nipple, other than breast milk
- Pain, redness, swelling or warmth
- Any change in the color, shape, size or texture of the breast
Breast self-exams are an option for women starting in her 20s. They are not a substitute for regular screening mammograms or clinical breast exams to detect breast cancer.
A breast self-exam involves both looking and feeling. It can be performed while looking in a mirror and when in the shower or lying down. For more information about how to perform a breast self-exam, talk with your doctor or visit the American Cancer Society website at www.cancer.org.