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The Monthly Self-Exam: Your First Line of Defense

Feel it on the first.

This simple expression was devised to help women remember to check their breasts regularly at the beginning of each month.

You know your body better than anyone. Self-exam, though certainly not the only recommended screening tool for women with average risk of breast cancer, should be your first line of health defense.  By becoming familiar with the normal look and feel of your breasts, you can quickly detect any abnormality and bring it to the attention of your doctors.

Here’s what your routine should be on the first of the month:

  1. After getting undressed, look at your breasts in the mirror. Check for changes in shape or size and rippling of skin and nipples.  Swelling and tenderness of both breasts can happen at the time of your period, but when it happens to only one breast or in a certain area of the breast, it’s something to bring up with your doctor.
  2. Raise your arms over your head and look for changes in your breasts and under your arms.
  3. Get into the shower or bath and lather up. Check your breasts in a logical pattern.  Think of your breast like a clock and start at 12 o’clock and work your way around the clock . Make sure to feel in concentric circles starting at the outside all the way around and then moving closer to the nipple in smaller circles.

If you see or find something that seems unfamiliar or unusual, draw a clock on a sheet of paper with an X on the area where you have concern. Call your doctor and share your observations with the nurse practitioner.  Try not to panic, but don’t shrug off changes in your breasts, either.

Please keep in mind that self breast exam is not a substitute for a regular checkup and the recommended mammography or ultrasound recommendations for your risk and age. Many tumors are too small to be felt, and early detection is the best weapon  against breast cancer.

Chrissy Amphlett, lead singer of the Australian band the Divinyls, whose song “I Touch Myself” catapulted the group to fame in the early 90s, died of breast cancer in 2013 at the age of 53. Chrissy’s message encouraging women to get familiar with their bodies was more prophetic than she could have realized.

So when you get into the shower on October 1, in honor of Chrissy, set up your phone to play the song.

You are your best health advocate. Make this the month you start to “touch yourself” and #feel it on the first.

– E.C.T.

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