This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Ugras shares with Health Matters simple steps you can take to increase breast self-awareness, including how to perform breast self-exams.
What is breast self-awareness?
Everyone should practice breast self-awareness. The simplest way to do that is by looking at your breasts in the mirror with arms both up and down, making sure they’re symmetric and that there are no inconsistencies between the two. If there is evidence of skin dimpling or redness, discharge or scaling of the nipples, tell your doctor. Symptoms like these present physically on the skin’s surface and you can easily monitor them on your own.
When should breast self-awareness start?
Practicing breast self-awareness should begin when breasts develop. Pediatric patients who have breasts should be aware of them and the rest of their bodies. Examining themselves at home and knowing what to look for is a good habit to establish early on, with the help of a parent or caretaker.
Once breasts develop, get a clinical breast exam by a physician annually. Yearly mammograms should begin at approximately age 40, according to the American Cancer Society. Doctors may advise beginning mammograms earlier than that if there is a family history or other risk factors.
How do you perform a self-exam?
“There’s no right or wrong way to conduct a self-exam,” says Dr. Ugras, who is also an assistant professor of surgery at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. “Many times, patients become overwhelmed and believe they are doing it incorrectly, but I always encourage them to focus on the big picture.”