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How Do I Detect Breast Cancer Lumps?

By M.R. Anglin
Updated Feb 24, 2024
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About 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and so detecting breast cancer lumps early is essential. One of the ways a woman can help detect breast cancer lumps is to perform a breast self-examination. Women should also have regular clinical breast exams to search for any lumps. Yearly mammograms are recommended for women over 40 as part of breast cancer screening. These three tests can help a woman detect breast cancer lumps while they are still small and most easily treated.

A breast self-examination can be an important first step in detecting breast cancer lumps. The inspection can help a woman notice any irregularities or differences in her breasts so that she can alert her doctor for a closer examination. Her doctor can also advise on the best way to administer the exam. Basically, the procedure can be taken in two steps. In the first step, a woman is standing and examining her breast by sight, and in the second step she is lying down and examines her breast by touch.

To do a breast self-examination, a woman should stand topless in front of a mirror so that she can see her breasts. She should look for any puckering, rashes, or redness, as well as determine if her breasts have a different contour or shape than they usually do. All this should be done while holding her arms in different positions. For example, she can start with her hand by her sides and then hold them above her head.

Once the visual exam is finished, the next steps involve lying down on a flat surface and examining the breasts by touch. To do this, the woman should use the pads on three fingers of the opposite hand to feel around the breast in a clockwise motion. In addition, she should squeeze the nipple and look for discharge. During an exam, a woman may find lumps, but most times they are not cancerous. If a woman does detect any abnormalities that do not change throughout her menstrual cycle, however, she should contact her doctor for a closer look.

A clinical breast exam is similar to a breast self-examination except that it is a doctor that is conducting the exam. It is recommended that women between 20 and 40 have this exam performed once every three years. Women over 40 should have this exam conducted along with their annual mammogram, which is another way to detect breast cancer lumps. During a mammogram, a machine squeezes the breast flat so that all the tissues can be seen, and then takes an X-ray picture of the breast. The radiologist may have the patient change positions between pictures so that the breast can be pictured from different angles.

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Discussion Comments
By Wisedly33 — On Jan 29, 2015

My mom is a breast cancer survivor, and she found her lump herself during an exam. She always said the best time to do the exam is in the shower, when your skin is wet, because it's easier for the fingers to glide over the skin.

She also advocates the "breast as a clock" method, where the woman starts at 12 o'clock and feels all around the breast until she's back at 12, moving in concentric circles inward or outward. That way, you cover the whole breast. It's also a good idea to check under the arms, too, since a swollen lymph node there can be a concern.

By Scrbblchick — On Jan 28, 2015

I found a lump on my breast during a self-check and I freaked out -- I was in my early 20s. Well, I told my mom and she called a friend who is a nurse. The friend knew there's a history of fibrocystic disease in the family, so she advised I lay off all caffeine for a week and see if that helped. She said a week wouldn't make that much difference.

So, I quit the caffeine, and a week later, the lump was gone. Ever since then, though, I can tell when I've been drinking too much caffeine. That little lump rises right back up. When I cut down on the coffee, it goes back down.

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