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The best way to perform a breast self-exam

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RICHMOND, Va. -- A woman knows her own body. That makes regular breast self-exams an important tool in early breast cancer detection.

"We are better at picking up lumps and bumps and recognizing differences," Dr. Mary Helen Hackney, with VCU Massey Cancer Center, said.

She stressed women need to perform breast self-exams on a regular basis.

Dr. Hackney said women need to know their breast is actually in the shape of a tear drop; not round.

"So, when doing a self-breast exam, we have to examine the breast area, under the armpits and under the collarbone," Dr. Hackney said.


She added the exam needed to be done a week after a woman’s menstrual cycle. She said many women prefer doing the exam in the shower because the soapy water makes it easier to examine the breast.

When doing a circular breast exam, you examine the entire breast.

"Make sure you examine the tail area that points to the armpit," Dr. Hackney said. "Basically, it’s circles that you go down deep and you’re going to cover the entire breast tissue."

Another exam method is called the lawnmower exam.

"Start by doing little circles and you press down a little bit and you go up in rows and feel a little bit deeper," she said.


Regardless of the type of exam, Dr. Hackney said you are looking for something that feels like a hard rubber ball.

"Something that’s soft, mushy tends to be something more of a cyst," she said. "Part of your exam is looking at your skin. If it’s red, if it’s tender, if it’s warm, if your breast feels swollen, you need to seek medical care."