Detecting & Living with Breast Cancer For Dummies
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It's recommended that you check your breasts at least once a month, especially during the week after your menstrual period. If you're post-menopausal, pregnant, or nursing, you should examine your breasts on the first day of the month.

Breast tissue enlarges before and during your menstrual period due to hormonal changes and returns to normal afterwards. Examining your breast tissue when it is enlarged due to normal hormonal changes may lead to "false positives," whereby the person thinks they feel a new lump. If this lump regresses when hormone levels drop, it's not likely to be due to cancer.

Examining your breasts can take no more than ten minutes. When you examine your breasts, you're looking for the following things:

  • Nipple direction: Is there a change in the nipple direction? That is, has it changed, such as now appearing at an unusual angle, or is the nipple now turned inward (inverted) when it used to be the opposite?
  • Nipple secretions: Is discharge coming out of your nipple spontaneously (without stimulation or squeezing)? Is it milky, bloody, yellow, brown, or weeping (a slow discharge, or something like oozing out of a wound)?
  • Areola changes: Are there changes in the dark skin around the nipple? Is it swollen or puckering?
  • Thickened skin: Does the skin feel thicker? Thick tissue may be found in the upper or lower areas of heavy breasts, such as a bulge on the skin.
  • Orange peel: Do you have "orange peel" skin? This happens when the skin appears to have unusually large pores anywhere on the breast.
  • Dimpling: Is there new dimpling in the skin, or a sunken area?
  • Swelling: Is there swelling, above the breast or under the armpit?
Some of those changes may appear in a person's breasts normally or perhaps since puberty. It is most important to note the new breast changes that are different from prior breast changes. If you find any changes in your breast, notify your doctor. Breast changes that are found early are mostly treatable.

breast-visual Illustration by Kathryn Born

Some things to look for in your visual inspection.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Marshalee George, PhD, is Faculty and Oncology Nurse Practitioner at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Division of Surgical Oncology at Johns Hopkins Breast Center.

Kimlin Tam Ashing, PhD, is Professor and Founding Director of City of Hope's Center of Community Alliance for Research and Education. Together they have over 40 years combined experience in treating breast cancer patients through diagnosis, treatment, recovery, and recurrent illness, as well as survivorship and follow-up care.

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