Changes in your breast: Normal or concerning?

older woman looking in mirror

Do you know what things to look for when performing a breast self-exam? It can be confusing to check your breasts when you aren’t sure what exactly you’re looking for. Many questions often come to mind: What are the worrisome signs? When should I contact my physician? It is important for women to have breast self-awareness and understand when to seek medical attention.

Who? One in 8 women will get breast cancer in their lifetime. We recommend all women perform self-exams and notify your physician if you find any abnormalities.

When? You should perform self-exams once a month. The best time to do so is within a few days of the end of your period.

How? The exam should be performed both standing and while lying down.

First, start in the standing position with your hands down at your sides. Look at both of your breasts to note any changes in size or shape. Also, check the color and texture of your skin. Repeat these steps with your arms in the air. Finally, examine your breasts with your hands on your hips. This will allow you to check for any changes in shape or contour, such as dimpling of the skin.

Next, lie down and raise your right arm above your head. Feel your right breast with the pads of the three middle fingers of your left hand, using a small, circular motion in an up-and-down pattern. Apply different amounts of pressure (light, medium and firm) to each area of the breast. Make sure to check all areas where the breast tissue may be found – from the armpit to the breast bone and from the collarbone to the bra line. Do not lift your fingers away from the skin at any time during the exercise. Repeat these steps on the left breast.

What are worrisome signs? Be sure to notify your physician should you have any skin changes such as dimpling, thickening of the skin (it may look like an orange peel) or redness on the breast. Contact your doctor if you feel a lump or any concerning areas so he or she can examine you and order imaging if necessary. You do not need to check for nipple discharge, but if you notice this from either breast, let your doctor know.

Remember, breast self-awareness and exams should not replace your annual screening mammograms, but complement them.

Post author Olivia Sinopoli, PA, is a physician assistant at Prisma Health’s Breast Health Center.

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