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Breast Self-Exam vs. Breast Self-Awareness

It is normal for breasts to change during the stages of your life. Therefore, knowing what is normal for your breasts to look and feel like is vital towards breast health. There are two main ways of evaluating your own breast health: a breast self-exam and breast self-awareness.

Breast Self-Exam

Self-exams are encouraged at least once per month. John’s Hopkins Medicine states that 40% of breast cancers are detected by women performing regular breast self-exams. It is important that with a self-exam, to perform them regularly.

The steps of an exam are as follows:

  1. Raise arm opposite to the breast being checked, and using pads of your fingers, move along your entire breast and armpit in a circular motion.
  2. Check both breasts for any lump, thickening or hardened knot.
  3. Visually inspect your breasts with your arms at your side and again with your arms high overhead.
  4. Press your palms on your hips firmly and check for dimpling, puckering or one-sided changes.

Breast Self-Awareness

Compared to a self-exam, self-awareness does not rely on a certain method or schedule but looking for changes in your breasts. Any noticeable changes should be reported to your healthcare provider.

Changes to look for include the following:

  • Nipple discharge other than milk
  • Swelling
  • Change in size or shape
  • Redness, thickening, or dimpling of the skin
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the armpit
  • Pain or redness of the nipples