October signifies many things…. Fall weather, a special birthday, an anniversary with your loved one, Halloween and a reminder that the holiday season is upon us. It is a time to honor those who have endured, battled and survived breast cancer. At Bits of Lace we urge you to take time not only this month, but every month, to conduct self breast examinations and schedule annual mammograms with your health care provider.  Screening tests can find breast cancer early, when the chances of survival are highest. Due to the increased use of mammography, most women in the United States are diagnosed at an early stage of breast cancer, before any symptoms even appear.

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How to conduct a self breast examination:

Step 1. Begin by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips. Look to see that breasts are their usual size, color and shape without visible distortion or swelling.

Step 2. Raise your arms above your head and look for the same changes.

Step 3. Look for any signs of fluid coming out of one or both nipples.

Step 4. Next, feel your breasts while lying down, using your right hand to feel your left breast and then your left hand to feel your right breast. Use a firm, smooth touch with the first few finger pads of your hand, keeping the fingers flat and together. Use a circular motion, about the size of a quarter. Cover the entire breast from top to bottom, side to side from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen, and from your armpit to your cleavage. Follow a pattern to be sure that you cover the whole breast.

For example, begin at the nipple, moving in larger circles until you reach the outer edge of the breast. You can also move your fingers up and down vertically, in rows, as if you were mowing a lawn. Be sure to feel all the tissue from the front to the back of your breasts: for the skin and tissue just beneath, use light pressure; use medium pressure for tissue in the middle of your breasts; use firm pressure for the deep tissue in the back. When you’ve reached the deep tissue, you should be able to feel down to your ribcage.

Step 5. Finally, feel your breasts while you are standing and sitting. Many women find that the easiest way to feel their breasts is when their skin is wet and slippery, so they like to do this step in the shower. Cover your entire breast, using the same hand movements described in Step 4.

The warning signs of breast cancer are not the same for all women. The most common symptoms are a change in the look or feel of the breast, a change in the look or feel of the nipple and nipple discharge. If you have any symptoms described below, see your health care provider.

  • ·         Lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
  • ·         Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
  • ·         Change in the size or shape of the breast
  • ·         Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • ·         Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
  • ·         Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
  • ·         Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
  • ·         New pain in one spot that does not go away

In most cases, these changes are not cancer. For example, breast pain is more common with benign breast conditions than with breast cancer. However, the only way to know for sure is to consult your doctor.

Many changes will occur in your breasts during your lifetime. Amongst our daily responsibilities of being mothers, wives, working professionals and so much more, it is easy to let these changes go unnoticed. Learning about breast structure and how the breasts function can help to understand which changes are normal and which are not. Many factors are linked to breast cancer, some affect risk a great deal and others only a small amount. The two most common risk factors are being a woman and getting older, both things that we cannot change. But, there are other factors that we may be able to control like leading a healthy lifestyle. Make it a point to take a little time out of your busy schedule and focus on YOU. Go for a walk, cook a healthy new recipe, buy those fabulous pair of shoes, conduct a monthly self exam and make your annual mammogram appointment today.   

For a how-to video on how to properly conduct a self exam visit:

References: www.komen.org and www.breastcancer.org