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Breast self-examination is an important component of breast awareness for all women. It is best performed once a month, 3 to 5 days after the start of your menstrual period. This is because your breasts are least nodular and tender at this stage. Breast self-examination only needs to be performed once per cycle, otherwise you will be feeling your breasts at different times of normal fluctuation within each normal menstrual cycle. If you no longer have any periods, it would be appropriate to check your breasts at a convenient time every month, say the first day of every … month.

The aim of breast self-examination is for early detection of any lump to facilitate prompt assessment. The intention is not only to pick up lumps but also for you to detect any changes so that this can be assessed early. Most lumps are not cancerous. Should you find any untoward changes, these need to be reported as soon as possible. The aim of breast self-examination is to achieve early detection, which would allow treatment of any condition at an earlier stage. This is related to a newly diagnosed cancer, early detection is associated with a better chance of a cure.

Breast self-examination procedure observation
You should stand or sit up straight in front of a mirror and look at your breasts for symmetry. Be conscious of any dimpling of the skin, discoloration or drawing in of the nipple. Check that the breast size has not changed. You should repeat the observation with your hands above your head as sometimes these changes are accentuated by a different position. Move your arms slowly, raise them again ………… the same features. You should then put your hands on your heaps, lean forward and make sure that there are no new changes.

Feeling your breasts
This can be done either lying down flat or sitting up. In either case, you should examine yourself with the opposite hand (left hand to examine right breast and right hand to examine left breast). Put the hand of the side that you are examining behind you head (Figure 1). You should examine yourself with your fingers kept straight, using the front part of your fingers. Keep them together and slide your hand over the five "quadrants" of the breast (Figure 2). You are feeling for lumps or new areas of lumpiness between your fingers and the chest wall. Breast examination is not done by a pinching action between your fingers and thumbs.

Having completed this in both breasts, you should repeat the technique over the top of the collarbone and in the armpit. This is best done with the arm by your side.

Breast self-examination is an important part of breast awareness and allows early detection. Early detection breast cancer leads to a better chance of cure. Most breast lumps are not cancers. Any new findings need to be assessed and should be reported to your doctor as soon as reasonably possible. Breast self-examination is not confined to finding lumps but also for you to report any changes that have not been present at your previous self-checks.

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