Sophia L. Thomas, DNP, FNP-BC, PPCNP-BC, FNAP, FAANP
Each October, we commemorate National Breast Cancer Awareness Month to increase awareness of the 276,480 women and 2,620 men in the U.S. each year who will develop invasive breast cancer. The best way to catch any breast cancer early and determine a course of action is with monthly breast self-exams, annual clinical exams and mammograms scheduled in consultation with your health care provider.
Following these guidelines provided by the National Breast Cancer Foundation can help increase your chances of catching breast cancer early and receiving successful treatment.
Monthly breast self-exams allow you to be familiar with your breasts and make it easier to detect any changes to your breast tissue. If you see or feel any changes to your breasts, talk immediately with a nurse practitioner (NP) or other health care provider.
Here are a few ways you can perform a self-exam:
1. In the Shower
With the tips of your three middle fingers, press down using light, medium and firm pressure on the entire breast and armpit area. Check both breasts each month, feeling for any changes such as lumps, thickening or hardened knots.
2. In Front of a Mirror
While standing in front of a mirror, inspect your breasts with your arms at your sides. Look for any swelling or changes in the contour of your breasts or nipples. Repeat the check with your arms over your head and again after resting your palms on your hips and pressing firmly to flex your chest muscles.
3. Lying Down
Breast tissue settles when you are lying down and spreads out evenly along the chest wall. Place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your entire right breast area and armpit. Squeeze the nipple and check for any discharge or lumps. Repeat the process for your left breast.
If you find a lump or see any unusual changes in your breasts, schedule an appointment with your NP or other health care provider. Early detection is key, and not all lumps are cancerous. Those that are can be caught early if you are monitoring your breast health.