What changes should I look for in a monthly breast self-exam?

Some breast changes to look for when doing your monthly breast self-exam include:
  • lumps
  • thickening or swelling of tissue on the breasts or underarms
  • redness or darkening of breasts
  • dimpling or puckering skin
  • nipple retraction (turning inward)
  • persistent, localized pain
  • itchy or scaly rash on the nipple or breast skin
  • nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
While nipple discharge can be uncomfortable, it’s rarely cancer. It may be just a sign of an infection or other underlying condition that needs to be treated. Much of the time, breast changes are not cancerous, but the only way to know for certain is a visit to your healthcare provider. It’s also helpful to use descriptive words about a new finding in your breasts. Words such as firm, spongy, thick, etc. make for great descriptions.

This content originally appeared on http://www.livehealthyaustin.com/
Susanne M. Chow, MD
Diagnostic Radiology
You should look at the skin of your breast for findings such as redness, swelling, scaling and for areas of skin retraction (dimpling).

You should look for changes in your nipple such as inversion (where you nipple goes in and not out), itchy scaly sore on the nipple or abnormal fluid/discharge from the nipple (especially bloody fluid) 

You should be feeling for lumps or thickenings that may be as small as a BB. They may be smooth or lobulated. Some nodules may be tender.

You should check your axilla/armpit for lumps which may represent abnormal lymph nodes.
When you do your breast self-exam (recommended for the same time each month), look at your breasts and make sure that they are their normal size, shape and color, and that they are evenly shaped without visible distortion or swelling. If you see or feel any of the following symptoms that don’t go away, see your doctor:
  • Swelling, soreness or rash
  • Warmth, redness or darkening
  • Change in the size or shape of either breast
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • Itchy, scaly sore or rash around the nipple
  • Nipple that becomes flat or inverted
  • Nipple discharge
  • New pain in one spot that does not go away
  • Persistent itching
  • Skin changes
If you see something unusual, don’t be alarmed -- 80% of breast lumps are benign (non-cancerous). Your breasts change shape and size throughout the month, so if you spot or feel something irregular, it does not mean you have cancer; for peace of mind, though, call your doctor

You should be looking for lumps, drainage from nipples and any other abnormality. Performing a monthly breast exam will help you become more familiar with how your breasts look and feel so you can alert your healthcare professional if there are any changes.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.