Finding breast cancer early is very important to the treatment that can save your life. Here is what the American Cancer Society recommends:
* Have a mammogram every year starting at age 40 and continue for as long as you are in good health.
* Get a breast exam by a doctor about every 3 years if you are in your 20s and 30s, and every year if you are 40 or older.
* Know how your breasts look and feel and tell your doctor of any changes right away.
There are different ways of doing a breast exam. Here are some steps to assist in this process:
* Look at your breast while standing in front of a mirror. First look at your breasts with your arms by your side, then raise them over your head, and finally, press your hands on your hips and tighten your chest muscles.
* Look for any changes -- size, shape, contour, dimpling, rash, redness, or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin.
* Lie down on your back, put a pillow under your right shoulder, and place your right arm behind your head. Examine your left breast with your right hand and your right breast with your left hand by using the finger pads of the 3 middle fingers. Use overlapping dime-sized circular motions of the finger pads to feel the breast tissue.
* Use 3 levels of pressure to feel all of the breast tissue. Light pressure is needed to feel the tissue closest to the skin; medium pressure to feel a little deeper; and, firm pressure to feel the tissue closest to the chest and ribs.
* Use an up-and-down pattern, starting at your underarm and moving across the breast to the middle of the chest bone. Be sure to check the entire breast area going down below your breast until you feel your ribs and up to the neck or collar bone.
* Sit or stand and feel each underarm area. You should raise your arm slightly while checking.
When you first begin checking your breasts, it is hard to know what you are feeling. With practice, you will become familiar with your breasts. See your doctor if you notice any of the following: lump; hard knot; thickening; change in size of shape of the breast; dimpling or puckering of the skin; rash; redness; scaliness of the nipple or breast skin; nipple discharge that starts suddenly; or new pain that does not go away.
For more information, visit the American Cancer Society online at www.cancer.org.