You've heard the statistic-every American woman has a one in eight chance of developing breast cancer at some point in her life. But thanks to modern medical technology, this condition is becoming more treatable. The most valuable player in the struggle with breast cancer isn't your doctor. It's you. As a woman, you play a critical role in maintaining good breast health to detect cancer in its earliest, most curable stages.
One of your most important breast-saving tactics is regular self-exams. Use this guide based on suggestions from the American Cancer Society to correctly perform breast self-exams.
When to Begin
All women over the age of 20 should perform breast self-exams every month, ideally seven to ten days after the start of their period when the breasts are least swollen and tender. Women who don't have regular menstrual cycles should perform their breast self-exams on the same day every month.
How to Perform a Self-Breast Exam
Lying with a pillow under your right shoulder, position your right arm behind your head. Using the pads of your left hand's middle fingers, press firmly to locate any lumps or changes in the nipple, areola and breast tissue. Use the same steps on your left breast using your right hand. In addition to performing a breast self-exam lying down, complete a self-exam standing up. Follow the same pattern each month, whether it's circular, wedge or straight up and down.
Steps to Take
Every woman's breasts are unique and may have lumps and bumps that are completely normal. The key is to watch for changes such as new lumps, swelling, irritation, dimpling, nipple pain, inverted nipple, redness, scaliness or discharge other than breast milk. While these changes don't necessarily indicate the presence of cancer, they can be warning signs you need to consult your physician.
|Are You at Risk?
A risk factor is any characteristic that increases your chances of developing a particular condition. While many women who develop breast cancer have no known risk factor for the disease, knowing your risk can help you beat the odds. If you have risk factors for breast cancer, talk to your physician to learn more about what you can do to protect yourself. According to the National Cancer Institute, the following characteristics may raise your chances of developing breast cancer:
- Excessive alcohol intake
- Exposure to radiation therapy
- Exposure to estrogen (increased exposure may increase risk)
- Family history
- High breast density
- Increasing age
- Late or no childbearing
- Personal history
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