October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is all about breast health. Most women probably don’t think too much about this day-to-day—but it’s an important topic.
Breasts come in all shapes and sizes, and you can expect them to change throughout your life. Knowing what’s normal and what needs a second look can help you stay healthy and reduce your chances of serious issues—including breast cancer—down the road.
In this article, we’ll cover the breast exams that are important for all women plus healthy ways to support your whole body, including your breasts, starting today.
3 Important Breast Exams for Every Woman
Breast cancer awareness involves learning more about prevention. Exams can help you pay attention to your body and notice anything abnormal or concerning early on. Here are the most common breast exams and how they work.
1. At-Home Breast Checks (and How to Do Them)
The process can feel awkward at first, but getting familiar with your breasts’ typical look and feel makes it easy to spot any changes. Once you hit your 20’s and for the rest of your life, you’ll want to do simple, regular breast checks at home.
- Stand facing a mirror with your back and shoulders straight. Put your hands on your hips so your arms are out of the way, and examine the shape, size and colors of your breasts.
- Raising your arms up above your head, perform the same exam again. Each time you do this, notice if there are any changes in size, shape, color, or if you notice any redness, swelling or nipple discharge.
- Next, lie down and rest one arm above your head with the elbow bent. Keep your hand flat and fingers straight so you can feel without poking your breasts. Feel your entire breast up to your collarbone and armpit, noticing any changes, then repeat on the other side.
Do these about once a month, preferably several days after your period (if you still have it) when your breasts aren’t tender. See your doctor if you notice any:
- new lumps
- changes in size, shape, or color
- breast pain that doesn’t go away
- Redness or swelling
- discharge or changes in you nipples
Note: If you do notice a new lump on your breast, see your doctor but don’t panic. 8 out of 10 breast lumps are not cancerous.
2. Clinical Breast Exam
Along with self-exams, a clinical breast exam is often recommended. This is done by your doctor and will look for anything new or unusual in your breasts.
According to WebMD, women age 20 and over should get a clinical breast exam every 1-3 years and every year when they hit age 40. If you have a strong family history of breast cancer, your doctor may recommend them more often.
3. Mammogram Breast Exams
Mammograms are x-ray screening tests that show any small changes your doctor may not be able to feel.
Mammograms are not recommended until you reach the age of 40 and over, since younger women have dense breast tissue that is hard to differentiate.
Women between ages 45-54 are advised to get mammograms every year, and at least every two years at age 55 and over.
Tips to Stay Healthy
A huge part of disease prevention includes healthy daily habits. By keeping your whole body healthy, you can support your breast health, too! So here are some healthy tips for supporting women’s health and breast health every day:
- Get regular exercise—at least 30 minutes per day.
- Eat lots of colorful fruits and vegetables to give your body essential vitamins and minerals and antioxidants.
- Get enough sleep—at least 7-8 hours per night.
- Don’t overdo it on alcohol: Try to stick to one drink per day or less.
- Practice mindfulness and give yourself time to relax to reduce emotional stress or work stress.
The Bottom Line
This month, take some extra time to focus on your breast health. Remember that prevention starts with paying attention, letting your doctor know about any changes, and taking care of your body (which includes your breasts!) as well as you can day-to-day.
How will you support your breast health this month?