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Sunday, November 25, 2012

SMART Youth Answers: ABCs of Breast Exams

What am I supposed to do during a breast self-exam? I'm so young, is it really that important?

As I'm sure you noticed, October was breast cancer awareness month. The pink was everywhere: Even the NFL got involved! But beyond getting donations for a breast cancer walk or wearing a pink ribbon, what does it mean? Well, if you have breasts, it's time for you to get acquainted with them!
Every woman should do a monthly breast exam. Now, this does NOT replace going to see your doctor and your gynecologist, but it is a useful tool in understanding your body. The more you know about your breasts the quicker you will know when something changes. Talk to your family members about breast cancer to learn about your family history, and make sure that you let your doctor know as well. Changes in your breasts can be caused by other medical conditions besides cancer, but it is always important to get everything checked out.

Okay, here's the 4-1-1 on monthly self-exams:

1. The best time to perform the exam is one week after you start your period. It is important to do the exam at the same time every month because monthly hormonal changes can alter the way your breasts feel.

2. Take off your shirt and bra and lie down. It is easiest to examine all of the breast tissue when you are not standing up.

3. Using the pads of the three middle fingers of your left hand-not your fingertips- check your right breast. Move your fingers slowly in small circles starting on the outside of your breast and working your way to the nipple. It is best to use three types of pressure to feel all of your breast tissue. Light pressure is needed to feel the tissue close to the skin. Medium pressure is used to feel a little deeper, and firm pressure is used to feel your tissue close to your breastbone and ribs. A firm ridge in the lower curve of each breast is normal. Use each pressure level to feel your breast tissue before moving on to the next spot.
 4. Remember that all breasts are not created equal, and some breasts naturally have lumps or cysts. What is important to learn is what is "normal" for you. This is something to talk about with your doctor when they are performing your yearly breast exam.

Here are a list of changes you might observe that should be checked out by a doctor:

  • Any new lump. It may or may not be painful to touch.
  • Unusual thick areas.
  • Sticky or bloody discharge from your nipples.
  • Any changes in the skin of your breasts or nipples, such as puckering or dimpling.
  • An unusual increase in the size of one breast.
  • One breast unusually lower than the other.
Although the possibility of breast cancer in a young woman is very low, it can happen. It is also a good idea to start the habit of breast exams now so that you will be an expert on your breasts as you grow older. Finally, it is important to mention that men can get breast cancer as well, although it is rare, and men should recognize changes in their breast tissue too! Remember, a self-exam never replaces the need to see your doctor on a yearly basis, and make sure that they perform a clinical breast exam during your visit. Now, go and get to second base with yourself!

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