The Importance of Regular Breast Self-Exams and How to Do One

At this point, most people probably know that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Thanks to massive campaigns run by the NFL and a variety of charity organizations, the color pink is everywhere during fall. That’s a good thing considering the devastating impact of breast cancer.

Each year, more than 240,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in the United States and more than 40,000 women die from the disease. Although breast cancer is more common in women over the age of 40, younger women and even men can develop it.

As with all cancers, early detection of breast cancer is the key to effective treatment. It could be the difference between life and death.

This means that performing a monthly self-breast exam is extremely important. If you’re unsure of how to do one, keep reading.

Is a Monthly Self Breast Exam Important?

When it is caught early, breast cancer typically responds well to treatments. This means a disease that could be fatal loses much of its power if it is diagnosed quickly. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, the five-year survival rate of patients who detect breast cancer early is 99 percent. Unfortunately, without regular self-exams, it can be difficult to spot the signs of breast cancer.

The most common symptom in breast cancer’s early stages is usually a lump or swelling in either the breast or the underarm area. Although not every lump is cancerous, finding one means that it is time to visit the doctor immediately for further evaluation. Other early signs of breast cancer include changes in the size, shape, or color of the breast, dimpling of the skin, and persistent, unusual tenderness or pain.

Performing regular breast exams is one of the best ways to spot problems before they become more serious.

How to Do a Breast Self-Exam

Adult women should perform a breast self-exam at least once a month. Those who have a strong family history of breast cancer may want to consider doing them even more frequently.

Fortunately, they are easy to do and take just a few minutes. To begin, it is important to get familiar with your breasts and determine what “normal” is for you. When you’re doing your first breast self-exam, let it serve as a baseline. Unless, of course, you happen to feel a lump or find one of the symptoms noted earlier. With each subsequent exam, compare your findings to that baseline.

The exam can be performed either standing or sitting. Many women like to do it in the shower while others prefer to stand in front of a mirror. The latter is a great choice because it allows you to see abnormalities instead of just feeling for them.

While standing in front of a mirror, look at both breasts with your hands at your sides. Then, raise your arms above your head. As you do so, look for changes in contour, swelling, or dimpling in the skin.

Next, place your left hand behind your head and use the right to feel your left breast. Use the pads of your three middle fingers and press down with light pressure. You can either move in an up and down motion across the entire breast or move outwards from the nipple. If doing the latter, imagine the 12 points of a clock and feel in the direction of each one. Once this is complete, use firm pressure and repeat the process. Feel for lumps, thickened areas, knots, or any other abnormal textures. Then, proceed to examine the other breast in the same way.

Another method of doing a breast self-exam is to lie down on your back. This causes the breast tissue to spread out evenly against your chest wall, making it easier to feel knots. Repeat the previous steps while in this position.

Other Early Detection Methods for Breast Cancer

While monthly breast self-exams are essential, they aren’t the only way to detect breast cancer in its early stages. An even better method is to visit the doctor for a mammogram. Experts recommend that women over 40, and those with a strong family history of breast cancer, should schedule a mammogram every one to two years.

A mammogram is a form of x-ray specifically designed to examine the breast tissue. This is a quick test that scans your breasts to identify abnormalities—possibly before you can even feel them.

Velocity Urgent Care Is Ready to Support You

If you find something concerning while doing a breast self-exam, it’s important to visit the doctor as soon as possible. Visiting urgent care might not be your first instinct, but it can be a great choice for those who don’t have an existing primary care physician.

Our providers will complete a health history questionnaire and perform a physical exam when you come to visit. Then, they can refer you to a specialist for quick and easy follow-up care. Thanks to our partnership with Sentara Healthcare, we can connect you to a network of physicians that will deliver the best care possible.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are taking serious safety precautions to ensure that our locations are as clean as possible. We’ve put strict sterilization protocols into place and are carefully handling patients who may be contagious to ensure that each one of our clinics is safe for those who need urgent medical care or testing.

Don’t put your health at risk by waiting to seek out treatment!

Velocity Urgent Care offers convenient online registration that helps you limit your contact with others during a visit. You can sign up for an appointment online ahead of time and arrive when it’s time to be seen to skip the waiting room. We even offer text message updates so you can wait in the car (if you prefer) until it’s time for your appointment.

Velocity Urgent Care is an in-network provider for most major insurance plans, meaning you can be seen for the cost of your co-pay and deductible. All of our locations also accept Medicare, Medicaid, and Tricare. Veterans Administration beneficiaries are also welcome.

To find out more about our services, locations, hours, and more, visit www.velocityuc.com.