Published on April 20, 2018

woman preparing for breast exam

Self-Exam Just One Tool in Breast Health Awareness

Most women remember a health class or doctor’s visit when they first learned about the BSE, or breast self-exam as a good monthly habit.

The BSE is still important, yet today, women are encouraged to take a more holistic approach to breast health awareness.

“The self-exam is still an important tool to monitor breast tissue. The emphasis now is to promote self-breast awareness. We want all women to get more aware of their ‘normal’ feeling of the tissue, so that if something abnormal comes up, they can address it with their physician,” said Traci Redmond, CNP, with Avera Medical Group Comprehensive Breast Care. “When women are more aware of themselves, they are more likely to notice any changes, leading them to act in a timely fashion, and that can make a world of difference.”

Developing Better Awareness

The self-exam continues to be a part of breast health awareness, and Redmond said the approach consists of two parts, inspection and palpation. Inspection is performed by standing in front of the mirror and palpation is best if performed when lying down.

“When standing in front of a mirror, inspect the skin and shape of the breast. Then reach your arms up, and then hands pressed into hips the flex the muscles below the breast tissue,” she said. “These two movements can help to notice dimpling or other variations in skin tension or texture. Then feel the tissue with your finger pads, if you notice any lump or mass, especially one that feels like a jagged pebble that won’t move as you apply pressure, then it’s time to get to your family doctor or breast health provider and have it checked.”

Redmond also said asymmetrical appearance between the two breasts also can be a warning sign. If one breast looks different than the other, or you notice tenderness, skin changes such as dimpling, redness or if the breast feels warm to the touch, do not delay – call and make the appointment to have it examined by your health care provider.

When To Complete Them

The best time to perform a breast self-exam is shortly after you complete your menstrual period. During this time, your breast tissue will be less apt to have bumps, swelling or tenderness that may come with your cycle.

Women should examine the entirety of their breast, and also nearby areas, such as the underarm area and the tissue that connects the breast and underarm.

“Increasing that familiarity is going to empower more women to notice subtle changes and when they do, they can act to get their doctor’s help and address possible issues in time,” she said. “We discourage women who find something to just not address it; it can lead to stress and anxiety, and the problem will still be there even if you choose not to have it examined. It’s better to come in and have a ‘happy ending’ of it being nothing serious than to delay evaluation if it were found to be something concerning.”

Redmond offered these reminders for women who seek to improve their overall breast health awareness:

  • Conduct a self-exam on a routine basis. Perform each exam in a consistent manner by visually looking at the breast tissue and feeling the tissue. If you still have a menstrual cycle, it’s best to perform it following menses.
  • Look for differences in the way the breasts look; asymmetrical differences can be warning signs.
  • Bulges, ripples in the skin and changes in the contour of the breast or nipple all could be signs that you should discuss with your provider.
  • Warmth to the touch, redness or tenderness, along with itchiness and soreness, and any unexpected discharge, especially if it contains blood – all are noteworthy symptoms that should lead women to check with their doctor or provider.

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