SolveYourProblem Article Series: Breast Cancer
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How To Examine Yourself For Breast Cancer Lumps
   

If all women were having routine mammography, 90% of all breast cancers would be found by X ray. If you have found a lump yourself, you're in good company. It may seem startling, but most malignant lumps are still found by women themselves, either through self-examination or else by chance.

Women know how their own bodies normally feel at various times during the month. They know the contours of their own breasts, and they are therefore in the best position to notice any changes. The more familiar you are with your breasts, the better prepared you are to detect any changes.

The first step in identifying potential problems is to learn as much about your own breasts as you can. Breast self-examination is the best way to do that, though being alert to your breast contours even when you're not specifically examining them can be extremely useful. Many women have found a suspicious lump when they were washing themselves in the shower or scratching a mosquito bite. Even "accidental" discoveries such as these, however, are much more likely if you have already learned the topography of your breast through self-examination.

Sometimes, either accidentally or in deliberately examining your breasts, you may notice that there is a painful spot. This is not at all uncommon. There is an old saying, "If it hurts, it's not cancer." That's usually true, but in a very small percentage of cases, cancerous lumps do hurt. You should call the painful place to your physician's attention.

By learning the techniques of self-examination, you are not specifically learning how to discover a cancer. You are learning to spot changes in your breasts that may or may not mean trouble.

When it is done properly, breast self-examination can significantly reduce the risk of advanced-stage cancer. Unfortunately, most women do not know the proper technique. Learning it could greatly increase the possibility of detecting a cancer in its early stages.

Here are a few tips to get you started in the right direction:

1. A good time to start examinations for lumps is in the late teens or early twenties. That's usually when women first visit a gynecologist or a women's health facility, and this is a convenient opportunity to begin to learn how to perform self-examination and to incorporate the habit into your life.

2. Never stop giving yourself self-examinations! It is an easy thing to do, and you should continue the procedure throughout your life, especially since breast cancer becomes more common as you get older.

3. You must examine your breasts, carefully and thoroughly, once a month. In addition to this scheduled, thorough examination, however, you'll find that as you become familiar with the appearance and contours of your breasts, you'll also be a more alert observer of any changes that may take place between examinations.

4. You should schedule the timing of self examination to the menstrual cycle because the breast's texture and contour often change during the month. You may have noticed that a few days before you get your period, the breasts become firmer and fuller. They also can become tender - in some women slightly so, in others quite painfully. The breasts may feel lumpy at that time of the month. This is a natural result of premenstrual engorgement. It does not indicate a cyst or a cancerous lump.

The swelling, tenderness, and lumpiness will almost certainly disappear after you menstruate. For these reasons, you should not perform your regular breast self-examination just before
your menstrual period.

5. Examine your breasts every month, ten days after the start of your period. If you miss the tenth day, do your examination as soon afterward as you can. Do not wait until the next month to "catch up."

Post-menopausal women should examine their breasts on the first day of every month; this makes it easy to remember.

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