October 2011 is Breast Cancer Action Month, so we thought this was a good opportunity to share some relevant advice.

You may think a yearly breast exam is enough to protect you from breast cancer, but most professionals will agree that regular self-exams are important because only you are familiar enough with your own body to detect small changes.

Choose a specific day or week to check for breast cancer symptoms. It is recommended the self-exam take place 7-10 days after the last day of your menstrual cycle. Women who no longer menstruate are advised to simply choose a specific day each month.

There are four steps every woman should follow each month in order to get the most thorough self-exam:

  1. Start by doing a visual inspection by standing in front of a wall mirror. Put your arms down and examine the contour of the breast. Also check for swelling or dimpling of the skin or nipple. Do not be alarmed if one breast is slightly larger than the other, as this is common. Move your hands up to your hips for further visual examination. Then raise your arms and flex your chest muscles. As you grow more familiar with visually inspecting your breasts each month, you will be more likely to notice any change.
  2. Place a hand on your hip, then use the opposite hand to feel your breast with the pads of your fingers. Check the entire breast and neighboring armpit by pressing down firmly and moving your fingers in a circular motion. After examining the first breast, move on to the other.
  3. Note any discharge that occurs when you squeeze the nipple of either breast. Lumps, unusual masses and nipple discharge are the most common breast cancer symptoms.
  4. Lastly, feel the breast and nipple while lying down. Use a pillow to prop up your right shoulder, and raise your right hand above your head. Using your left hand, check the right breast with the pads of your fingers by moving them in a circular motion. Reverse the process to examine your left breast.

Often, changes in the breast are a natural occurrence rather than a sign of cancer, but it is wise to consult with your doctor when you spot or feel something unusual. Early diagnosis and treatment dramatically increase the breast cancer survival rate.

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