Hesperian Health Guides

The breast exam

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HealthWiki > A Health Handbook for Women with Disabilities > Chapter 6: Health Exams > The breast exam

a woman using her hands to examine the breasts of a woman with no hands.
A sister or friend can do a breast exam for you if you cannot.

A regular breast exam is a good way to make sure you do not have any signs of breast cancer. Most women have some small lumps in their breasts. These lumps often change in size and shape during her monthly cycle. They can become very tender just before monthly bleeding. Sometimes—but not very often—a breast lump that does not go away can be a sign of breast cancer. Many women get breast cancer which, if not treated, can kill you. Regular breast exams ensure that cancer can be found and treated early, when it can still be cured.

A trained health worker should examine your breasts every time you have a regular check-up or pelvic exam. The health worker will use the exam method described in this chapter.

Even though a health worker may examine your breasts every year or two, you can examine your own breasts more often.

a breast shown with crossed dotted lines dividing it into 4 parts.
If your breasts are large, divide them into 4 parts and examine them one part at a time. You can draw a picture like this and make a mark if you find a lump anywhere.

If you cannot do it yourself, someone you trust can do it for you. It is best to get the same person to help each time. That way, the person who helps will know if something changes.

Try to examine your breasts once a month on the same day during your menstrual cycle. If possible, always do it 7 days after your monthly bleeding starts each month. If you can do it regularly, you will learn how your breasts usually feel, and you will be more likely to know when something is wrong. Also, try to examine your breasts when you have enough time to relax and do the exam well.

To help you remember how your breasts feel each month, make a simple drawing. Draw a large circle for the breast, and a smaller circle for the nipple. When you examine your breasts, if you feel any lumps, mark the place on the drawing. When you check again the next month, it will be easier to remember where any lumps were and if they are getting larger.

One way you can examine your breasts

How to examine your breasts

Look at your breasts in a mirror, if you have one. Raise your arms over your head. Look for any change in the shape of your breasts, or any swelling or changes in the skin or nipple. Then put your arms at your sides and look at your breasts again.
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Lie down and, if possible, put one arm behind your head. Keeping your fingers flat, press your breast and feel for any lumps. Change arms to feel the other breast. Be sure to touch every part of your breast. It helps to use the same pattern every month.
a woman lying on a mat to examine her breast; a folded towel supports her shoulder on the side she is examining.
a woman using an up-and-down pattern to examine her breast.

Other ways you can examine your breasts

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If you cannot reach across your chest, you can use the hand that is closest to the breast.
If you have weak muscles or your hands shake, you can use your other hand to guide your fingers. Or someone else can guide your hand. A helper can hold your hand up to your breast and keep your fingers in the right place.

Remember: If you get tired, take a break. You do not have to do the exam all at once.

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If you cannot feel well with your fingers, you can use another part of the hand. You can use your thumb, your palm, or the back of your fingers. Be sure to feel all parts of your breast.