October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and it’s easy to be aware of that. From pink sneakers on NFL players to walks, fundraisers, and concerts, there’s a huge push this month to get folks to pay attention to their breast health. This means regular visits with a healthcare provider, mammograms, and early detection — and early detection includes monthly breast self-exams.
A lot has changed during the pandemic. Many people decided to put off healthcare and delay some routine preventive visits. People also noticed their bodies changing, in all manner of ways, because of stress. Doing a monthly breast self-exam isn't just about looking for cancer. It’s part of staying acquainted with your body, checking in with it, and seeing what’s up. It’s a time to slow down and clue in. Is that a new freckle? Is there weight gain or loss? Muscle gain or loss? Our bodies have so much to tell us if we take the time to listen.
Unless they have certain risk factors such as a family history of breast cancer, most people don’t start getting regular mammograms until they are 40 years old. This contributes to a misconception that breast health is not a concern until then. However, once you’ve passed puberty, it’s a good idea to do monthly self-exams. If you’ve never done a breast self-exam, you may be wondering where to begin. Here are few easy steps to get you started:
• Begin by looking at your breasts in the mirror. Be sure you are standing on flat feet or sitting with as straight a back as you are able (no intentional slouching or leaning).
• Check for usual size, shape, and color.
• Raise your arms and continue to check shape, size, and color.
• If you have any redness, soreness, rash, dimpling, or bulging, or a nipple that has changed shape or has unusual discharge, contact your healthcare provider immediately.
• Next, with one arm raised, begin to move your fingertips in small circles (about the diameter of a quarter is a good size), moving from the nipple outward toward the armpit, covering the area of the breast. Use firm pressure to feel through any dense tissue. Repeat on the other side.
• Then perform another self-exam with arms down. Use the same technique, massaging in small circles with your fingertips. Work from your collarbone down to your armpit and then to your abdomen, while also covering the area of the breast. Feel for any changes — lumps, bumps, sore spots, and anything different from your last check.
• If you feel any changes or lumps, contact your healthcare provider.
The Keep A Breast Foundation’s Keep A Breast app is a helpful tool for keeping on top of your self-exam routine. It features animated videos that show you exactly how to perform a check. The app will also send you reminders to do your self-exams and can even build around your menstrual cycle, if you experience one. You can connect with others and share experiences. The app can also connect you directly to Carbon Health so you can schedule a virtual visit with a primary care provider — if you have questions or find something that causes concern, you can schedule a same-day appointment.
Sometimes, you may find a lump, bump, or irregularity during a self-exam. If you notice one of these changes, have discharge from the nipple, or find something else unusual for your body, contact your healthcare provider and have them take a look. There are many benign (non-cancerous) breast conditions. Menstrual cycles, certain medications, stress, and illness can all lead to changes in glands around the breast area or in breast tissue, but it's always a good idea to have any changes in your breasts checked out.
One of the best things you can do for your health is get to know yourself. Knowing how your body usually changes when you are menstruating, during times of stress, or in other situations can help you talk with your doctor.
Looking to establish care with a new primary care provider? Carbon Health’s compassionate, judgment-free staff are here to help you stay healthy and reach your health goals.
Carbon Health’s medical content is reviewed and approved by healthcare professionals before it is published, but it is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition, and before making changes to your healthcare routine.