Simple, quick and effective, the at-home breast exam is the first line of defense when it comes to beating breast cancer. To perform an at-home breast self-exam, lie down and place a pillow behind your back on the side of the breast you’re examining. With your arm behind your head, press in a circular motion all around the breast, searching for abnormalities. Just because you feel something doesn’t necessarily mean it is cancer. Breast tissue varies in consistency -- from slightly lumpy glandular tissue to soft fat tissue, both of which can vary during your menstrual cycle, according to the Mayo Clinic. A cancerous lump will feel firmer than other nodular lumps. You should consult your doctor if the lump doesn’t disappear after your next menstrual cycle. If the lump grows larger or you start to see bloody discharge coming from the nipple, it’s time to make a trip to the doctor as soon as possible.
During a pap smear or womanly check-up, your doctor might also perform a breast exam. This is like the exam you perform at home once a month, but your doctor will know exactly what to look for. If your doctor feels something abnormal, or if you tell her your breasts have changed in some way in the past months, you might be instructed to come back for further testing, like a mammogram.
While touch-and-feel breast exams can be effective, the mammogram is the definitive test of whether or not you have breast abnormalities. Using low-energy X-rays, your doctor will place your breasts in a machine, allowing a full image of the tissue inside to be viewed. The American Cancer Society suggests that women over 40 years old should get a mammogram every year. Mammograms are recommended for women under 40 if there is a family history of breast cancer or if you’ve discovered an abnormal lump during a home breast exam.
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