“At Sarah Cannon we recommend that women be familiar with their own breasts each month and immediately report any changes to a healthcare provider,” says Erika Hamilton, MD, Director of Breast Cancer and Gynecologic Cancer Research for Sarah Cannon Research Institute. “If a woman is aware of the normal look and feel of her breasts, she will know when something changes or feels abnormal outside of normal monthly fluctuations, and can speak with her doctor about any concerns she may have."
While there are many benign causes for changes, sometimes changes are an indicator of something serious like a cancer. Breast cancers have a higher rate of cure when detected in early stages. In addition to women being familiar with their breasts and promptly reporting any changes to a healthcare provider, Sarah Cannon recommends adding annual screening mammography starting at age 40.
What's normal and what's not
There is no “normal” or “standard” breast; they differ in size, shape, and texture, and often one breast will be slightly different from its mate. When you’re pregnant or during monthly cyclical changes, expect breasts will also undergo changes that can be reflected in size and tenderness. When familiarizing yourself with your breasts, 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
If you have any concerns or worries, share them with your OB/GYN.
How to familiarize yourself with your breasts
You can check your breasts both lying down and standing up, since changes in body positioning can affect what you are able to feel below the skin. You may also 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. Be sure to also visually inspect your breasts for dimpling or color changes by looking in the mirror at your breast tissue.
If you have questions about how to familiarize yourself with your breasts, call askSARAH at (844) 482-4812 to speak to a nurse who is specially trained to help with your cancer questions or visit askSARAH online.
It is important to know that the information in this post, including Sarah Cannon’s recommendations for screening, is accurate as of the publishing date.