What should you look for when checking your breasts for abnormalities?

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Dr Jennifer Grant, a GP with the Beacon HealthCheck screening programme at Beacon Hospital
Dear Doctor Grant,

I kind of check my breasts for lumps in the shower but I’m never sure that I am checking them right and I’m too embarrassed to ask my GP to help me. Can you describe how I should be checking them and what I am looking for?
A breast self-exam is very quick and easy to do. All you need is a little practice.
Start by standing in front of a mirror and look at your breasts with your hands on your hips. Next, raise your arms high overhead. You need to look for any changes in the contour, any swelling, or puckering/dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples such as nipple inversion. A skin rash on or around your nipple, any discomfort or pain in one breast, particularly if it’s a new pain that lasts through your menstrual cycle.
The second part is performed by either lying flat on your bed or at a 45° angle propped up on three to four pillows. The breast tissue spreads out evenly along the chest wall. Place your arm behind your head. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently in small circular motions covering the entire breast area and armpit. You are trying to feel a painless, palpable pea-sized lesion. Try to use light, medium, and firm pressures. Divide the breast into four imaginary quadrants using the nipple as a cross. This allows a more scientific approach. Squeeze the nipple to check for a non-milky discharge, blood or a lump in the nipple.
Lastly, you mentioned that you examine yourself in the shower. Basically, you should examine your breasts standing upright as well as lying down and therefore many women find it easier to feel their breasts when their skin is wet and slippery in the shower.
The advice is to perform monthly breast self-exams helping you to know what is normal for you and allowing you to report any changes to your GP.
You should never be afraid to approach your GP about any health concerns. You will find they are just human beings with plenty of experience in dealing with breast complaints.
Online Editors

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