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NOW READING Breast Cancer Awareness: A Top Mastectomy Surgeon Explains What To Look For During A Self-Exam
October 7, 2020

Breast Cancer Awareness: A Top Mastectomy Surgeon Explains What To Look For During A Self-Exam

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Beautytap believes in being extra vigilant which means understanding how to perform a breast self-exam at least once a month is essential. 


In a year filled with negative statistics, it’s refreshing to hear that breast cancer deaths have declined by 34% since 1990. Survival rates have improved as well, thanks to advancements in medication, surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. 


“Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump.”


Still, 1 in 8 women will battle this disease, so learning what to do and when to do it can be the difference between a positive outcome and a tragic end. 


What Is Breast Cancer? 


As the name suggests, breast cancer originates in the breasts and can spread to other parts of the body. In the early stages, you may not be able to feel anything, but that simply underscores the necessity of annual visits to your gynecologist. Some breast tissue is fibrous, and many lumps are completely harmless. And, although breast cancer predominantly afflicts women, men are not immune. 


Heather H. Richardson, MD, FACS


When And How To Do A Breast Self-Exam


The guidelines for self-exams have changed dramatically over the years. Doctors rarely distribute instructional hang tags to remind women to do their breast exams while showering, and step-by-step instructions are more a recommendation than a rule. Mastectomy Surgeon Heather Richardson, MD, FACS emphasizes that breast exams should be done “regularly,” but there’s no need to get anxious if you haven’t done one for a while. “What’s important,” she says, “is that you learn what’s normal for your breasts. All breasts are inherently lumpy, especially between the nipple and the armpit, which is where most of the lobules [milk-producing sacs] are located.” 


Mastectomy Surgeon Heather Richardson, MD, FACS emphasizes that breast exams should be done “regularly”.


Fluid levels in the body vary throughout the month, so checking your breasts at regular intervals may help you identify changes more effectively. And tissue density decreases with time and hormone fluctuations, so understanding what your breasts feel like in your 20s can help you recognize abnormalities as you age. 


“Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump.”


What To Pay Attention To When Doing Your Self-Exam At Home 


Pick a convenient time and day to conduct your breast self-exam (BSE). If you like scheduling things on a calendar and following technical instructions, that’s fine. But if you’re more of a roll-with-it kinda gal, that’s okay, too. 


Lumps that are “rubbery, tender, or hard to locate a second time” are probably completely normal. Hard lumps, however, should be discussed with your physician, as should:


  • Changes in breast size or shape
  • Unusual swelling or redness
  • Skin dimpling or puckering
  • Nipple issues, like discharge or a rash
  • Pain in a single location that doesn’t abate


And just as makeup lovers appreciate the reminder that brows are sisters, not twins, breasts rarely match one another feature for feature. 


Breast test


Stand Up, Lay Down, Check, Check, Check


Okay, that sounds a bit like a pep rally cheer, but we want you to do your BSEs with enthusiasm not dread. “Use the pads of your fingers, not the tips,” Dr. Heather explains, and check everything. “Feel all the tissue from the collarbone down to the bra line, and from the armpit to the breastbone.” If you’re more comfortable laying down, try using lotion, so your hand will slide more easily over the breast. To borrow a quote from Nike, “Just Do It.”


In part two of our series on breast cancer awareness, you’ll learn more about additional screening technology, genetic testing, and the role of survivors in the breast cancer narrative. 

Tracy is a "quality over quantity" word girl fascinated by eagles and life in a small SoCal mountain community. She believes in the now, has written professionally for 30+ years, and worships at the alters of serum and Sulwhasoo.




Thank you Tracy, my mother and grandmother had breast cancer and I have had a benign tumor removed and a mamogram already. I think that the benign tumor was almost a good thing because now I know what normal tissue even if you have very fibrous tissue, but I know what normal feels like and what a lump that started off about the size of a pea feels like. When it got to a peanut size it was time to go. I was in high school and still have pain in the area it was removed but I’m lucky for... Read more


I'm so glad your tumor was benign, Jenna, and that you learned what's normal and what's not. Self-exams and digital screenings are key to good/better outcomes.


This needs to be shared more often. Thank you for choosing this topic to share with us.


Absolutely will be sharing this article far and wide! Part two as well!!!


Thank you, pretty lady! Please share it with your male friends, too. They are rarely aware of their own risk status. Take care!


Very important article. Thank you for sharing! Cancer is no joke.


This Article. Is VERY informative, important and well worth our attention!! Our lives are at stake so we all need to be kept informed and educate others !!


Thank you for commenting. Please share this information far and wide as well as part two.


Great and helpful article! Thank you for the reminder. It is really important for women to get checked out every year to be safe.


Thank you, Milly. Part two is coming soon as is an article about brands that are giving back in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This topic is near and dear to me.


The importance of this article cannot be stressed enough! Thank you for this.


Such an useful and important article. Thanks for making this something for everyone to know about. Cancer is not an easy thing to deal with and its always good to take precautions ahead of time to be safe.