Double Sunrise Young Women's Health: early teen to college years

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GeneralHealth Info

Breast Exam

When your breasts are developed, breast exams become important. Breast exams are done at a young woman's yearly physical examination by your health care practitioner, and monthly as "breast self-exam" (BSE) by you.

The purpose of a breast exam for women is to detect breast changes and to report them to your health care provider without hesitation. This will increase your chance of early detection and treatment of any problem.

It is unlikely that teenage girls will have breast cancer, but it is important for all young women to practice breast self exam:

  • In case a lump does develop.
  • As an important health habit to learn.

Establishing BSE as monthly health habit will help you learn what your breast tissue feels like, even before you are old enough to be at high risk for breast cancer. This is one way to assure yourself that in the future, if you develop a lump, you will know it as soon as possible and be able to see your doctor immediately for evaluation. Early detection of breast problems is a strong defense for women.

When Do I Preform Breast Self-Exam? Plan to do breast self-exam every month (a week after your period is suggested as your breasts are less tender and/or swollen then). If your periods are irregular, then choose a day of each month to do BSE.

Step 1
Stand in front of a mirror with your arms down at your sides. Look at your the shape of your breasts. One breast may be larger than the other, which can be normal during adolescence. Look for any dimpling, or puckering. Also look for any redness or swelling.

Put your hands on your hips and continue to look for any changes. Turn a bit and view your breasts from side angles as well. Continue to observe for any redness, swelling puckering or dimpling.

Next raise your hands above your head. Look again for changes.

Step 2
An easy way for young women to preform BSE is when taking a shower. Wet and lather your hands with soap which will help you glide with ease during the procedure. Start by putting one hand behind your neck. Use the 3 middle fingers of your other hand and starting at the nipple, feel the tissue using a small circular motion. Slowly check the entire breast, section by section, repeating the small circular motion to feel the section and then sliding to the next. Follow a larger circular pattern. Move step by step continuing in an enlarging circular pattern until the breast is completely covered. Repeat on the other breast using the 3 middle fingers of your other hand.

"I tried BSE but I felt confused. Was I doing it right?"
Remember, it takes doing monthly breast exams multiple times before women feel confident enough to say, "Oh yes, my breast tissue always feels this way in this section and that way in that section." The best way to know how your normal breast tissue feels is to do BSE every month repeatedly. If you know the pattern of your breasts well, it will be easier for you to find a lump or thickening to report to your practitioner. Again, when you are a teenager, most breast lumps are not cancerous, but if you find a lump, or feel unsure in any way, notify your practitioner for an evaluation.

Why is it important for a teenage girl to start BSE?
It is important for young women to practice monthly BSE when their breasts develop. For one reason, it's important to learn what your breast tissue feels like, so you will "know it like the back of your hand."

Some people avoid preventative health habits, like annual exams and BSE because they are afraid of finding something bad. It is scary to find a problem, but it's a lot more frightening to have a problem that is advancing, and not know it.

As a young woman, you are learning your normal breast tissue which increases your ability to detect early changes should they occur in the future. And, you are developing a health habit, which is a wonderful way to take care of yourself.

Remember: Prevention and early detection of problems gives you the best chance of being as healthy as you can be.

Written 11/00. Revised 12/02
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