4 tips to perform a breast self-exam by an Akron General breast surgeon

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Akron General breast surgeon Amanda Mendiola, MD, describes how to perform a monthly breast self-exam, including when to perform them, how often and what is a cause for concern.

Akron General, a Cleveland Clinic affiliate

Akron General, a Cleveland Clinic affiliate

Women should know how their breasts normally feel and look, so they will notice any changes. You can do that by performing monthly breast self-exams.

As Akron General Reflections Breast Health Center celebrates their 30th anniversary in October, they are also celebrating the nearly one million women they have screened for breast cancer. Mammography has reduced the breast cancer death rate in the United States by 30 percent since 1990. Yet still, every year over 200,000 American women are diagnosed with breast cancer. Mammograms can help find breast cancer early, even before symptoms appear. This is when it’s easiest to treat. And when breast cancer is detected early, the five-year survival rate is 100 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Breast cancer awareness truly begins with an emphasis on prevention and early detection. “Women should know how their breasts normally feel and look, so they will notice any changes,” says Amanda Mendiola, MD, Akron General breast surgeon. “You can do that by performing monthly breast self-exams,” she adds.

Dr. Mendiola recommends that if you are still menstruating, women should perform a monthly breast self-exam three-five days after their menstrual period ends – when your breasts are least likely to be tender or swollen. If you no longer menstruate, pick a certain day – like the first day of each month – to remind yourself to do an exam. Dr. Mendiola recommends:
1.    Look at your breasts in front of the mirror, and see how the skin and nipples look.
2.    While watching closely, lift your arms up over your head, and see how the tissue moves when you move your muscles.
3.    Get in the shower, and feel your breasts with the pads of your fingers. Apply some light to firm pressure, and make sure you feel all of your breast tissue, which goes from your collar bone down to the crease under your breast, and from your armpit to your breast bone.
4.    Feel the tissue by pressing your fingers in small, overlapping areas about the size of a dime. To be sure you cover the whole breast, take your time, and follow a definite pattern: lines, circles, or wedges.

Check with your healthcare provider if you notice any changes in your breast that cause you concern. Changes may include development of a lump, discharge other than breast milk, swelling of the breast, skin irritation or dimpling or nipple abnormalities (like pain, redness, scaliness or turning inward).

Monthly breast self-exams should start around age 20 and continue your entire life. A clinical breast exam should be performed by your healthcare provider every one-three years, starting at age 25 through age 39, when you start getting your screening mammograms. Dr. Mendiola recommends annual mammograms starting at age 40, particularly if you have dense breasts or a family history of breast cancer.

“A mammogram can pick up something that is less than one centimeter – we cannot feel something that small,” says Dr. Mendiola.

About Akron General Health System
Akron General Health System, an affiliate of Cleveland Clinic, is a not-for-profit health care organization that has been improving the health and lives of the people and communities it serves since 1914. Akron General Health System includes: Akron General Medical Center, a 532-bed teaching and research medical center, and Edwin Shaw Rehabilitation, the area’s largest provider of rehabilitation services; Akron General Partners, which includes Partners Physician Group, the Akron General Health & Wellness Centers, Lodi Community Hospital, Community Health Centers and other companies; Akron General Visiting Nurse Service and Affiliates; and Akron General Foundation. Recently, U.S. News & World Report ranked Akron General Medical Center as the seventh best hospital in Ohio. In 2013, the American Nurses Association bestowed the prestigious “Magnet” status on the more that 1,000 nurses from Akron General Medical Center, Edwin Shaw Rehabilitation and the Health System’s Health & Wellness Centers. For more information about Akron General Health System, visit akrongeneral.org.

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Kelly Ward-Smith
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