As important as requesting regular mammograms for
the early detection of breast cancer, is getting periodic breast
exams by a doctor or nurse. You may find it convenient to schedule
this exam during your routine physical. If a breast exam is not
part of your regular checkup, you should ask to have it done. The
examiner will look at your breasts while you are sitting and while
you are lying down. You may be asked to raise your arms over your
head or let them hang by your sides, or to press your hands against
your hips. The examiner checks each breast carefully for changes in
the skin, such as dimpling, scaling, or puckering, or any discharge
from the nipples, or any difference in appearance, either size or
shape. The next step is
Using the pads of the
fingers to feel for lumps, the examiner will systematically inspect
the entire breast, the underarm, and even the collarbone area,
first on one side, then on the other.
A lump is generally the size of a pea before a skilled examiner
can detect it. Lumps that are soft, round, smooth, and movable tend
not to be cancerous. An irregular, hard lump that feels firmly
anchored within the breast tissue is more likely to be a cancer.
However, these are general guidelines, not hard and fast rules.
A breast exam by a doctor or nurse can find some cancers missed
by mammography, even very small ones. In addition to the skill and
carefulness of the examiner, the success of a breast exam can be
influenced by your monthly cycle, by the size of your breast, as
well as by the size and location of the lump itself. Lumps are
harder to find in a large breast.