“Doctors recommend that women be familiar with their own breasts,” says Stephanie Graff, MD, Director of the Sarah Cannon Clinical Breast Program for Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at HCA Midwest Health. “A woman can use her eyes and hands to be aware of the normal look and feel of her breasts. When something changes or feels abnormal, it’s an opportunity to contact your doctor.” While there are many benign causes for such changes, sometimes it is an indicator of something serious like a cancer. Breast cancers are most treatable when detected in early stages. Sarah Cannon recommends adding annual screening mammography to breast self-exam starting at age 40.
What's normal and what's not
There is no “normal” or “standard” breast among women. Breasts differ in size, shape, and texture, and often one breast will be slightly different from its mate. When you’re pregnant, expect your breasts to undergo changes that can be reflected in size and tenderness. If you have any concerns or worries, share them with your OB/GYN.
Call your healthcare provider if you experience any of these warning signals:
- Puckering, dimpling, scaliness, or redness of the breast or nipple
- Changes in the size, shape, or contour of the breasts
- A lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
- Swelling, warmth, redness, or darkening of the breast
- Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
- New, persistent pain in one spot
How to familiarize yourself with your breasts
It is important for women to be familiar with their breasts and promptly report any changes to a healthcare provider. You can check your breasts both lying down and standing, since changes in body positioning can affect what you are able to feel below the skin. You may find it easier to do the standing portion while in the shower, since your fingers will glide more easily over your skin. Cover the full area of the breast including under the armpit (axilla) and the breast tissue under the nipple. Also include visual inspection for dimpling or color changes by looking in the mirror at your breast tissue.