In October, women across the globe are reminded of the #1 most prevalent female killer worldwide, breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a time for women to gather information, share their stories, and literally take health into their own hands with self-exams. In honor of the 1.38 million new cases annually, and in memory of the 458,000 deaths each year, we’re encouraging women everywhere to monitor their bodies closely for signs and symptoms of breast cancer.
There aren’t any sure-fire ways to prevent breast cancer, so the best defense against it is early detection. The earlier breast cancer is found, the better your chances are of fighting and recovering from it. Combining at-home exams with professional screening gives you the upper hand in detecting breast cancer before it becomes life-threatening.
Doctors suggest examining yourself for lumps once a month. Routine self-breast exams are essential to catching cancer in its earliest stage, as 40 percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who felt a lump.
Here are three ways you can administer a breast exam in the comfort of your own home:
1. Laying down
Lay down in bed or on the floor, place a pillow under one of your shoulders, and raise the arm on that side above your head. Using the opposite hand, move your fingertips in a circular motion around your breast, covering the entire area and armpit. Apply different levels of pressure and squeeze the nipple to feel for any lumps. Repeat on the opposite side.
2. In the shower
While your conditioner is setting in, take a few minutes to check both breasts and armpit regions for lumps or hardened knots. Move your fingertips from the outside underarm area to the center of the chest, in small, circular movements. Do this to both sides.
3. In front of the mirror
With both arms down by your side, visually inspect your breasts, then raise your hands above your head and do the same. The more familiar you are with the appearance of your breasts, the easier it is to spot changes. Study your reflection for any swelling or differences in contour and color.
Next, place your palms on either side of your hips, bending at the elbow, and press firmly. The goal of this movement is to flex your chest muscles. Most women’s breasts do not match exactly, so without taking symmetry into account, exam each side for any dimpling, puckering, or noticeable changes.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a great reminder to hold yourself accountable and commit to performing frequent self-breast exams. Take this time to set a monthly reminder on your phone or pick a day on your calendar each month to pencil in a self-exam so you won’t forget.
If you feel anything during your exam that raises concerns, call your doctor for further evaluation, but keep in mind 8 out of 10 lumps are not found to be cancerous.
Along with self-exams, the most important thing you can do to detect breast cancer early is to get a mammogram. A mammogram is a low-energy X-ray that screens the breast for abnormalities and signs of cancer.
There are two types of mammograms:
- Screening mammogram: This kind looks for signs of breast cancer in women who don’t have any symptoms or breast-related issues. Multiple X-rays are taken from different angles on each breast.
- Diagnostic mammogram: This type is used to look at a woman’s breast if she has been experiencing symptoms, or if changes are seen on the screening mammogram. These X-rays show additional views that aren’t included in a standard screening mammogram.
A mammogram can detect tumors before they can be felt, so screening is your best bet for catching breast cancer in its earliest stages.
American Cancer Association’s recommendations for receiving mammograms:
- Ages 30-40 with a family history: consult your healthcare provider about the advisable age to start getting them
- Ages 44-55: every year
- Ages 55+: every other year
October is the perfect month to schedule your mammogram each year. Remind the women in your life to do the same by sending a text, giving them a call, or sharing this article.
During National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and throughout the year, our thoughts are with the women and families in our community affected by breast cancer.
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