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Reproductive Health Information--Breast Self-exam


One in eight women will get breast cancer at some point in her life. Breast cancer is the most frequently occurring cancer in American women. The American Cancer Society estimates that over 44,000 women died from breast cancer in 1997. However, breast cancer does not have to kill. If detected early, breast cancer often can be successfully treated.

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What are risk factors for breast cancer?

All women, including women with disabilities, are susceptible to breast cancer. You might be at a greater risk for breast cancer if:

  • you are over age 40.
  • your mother, sister, or daughter has had breast cancer.
  • you were exposed to high dose radiation when you were young (i.e. extensive x-rays for scoliosis, radiation for thymus problems, radiation
  • for pneumothorax).
  • you have a diet low in fiber and high in fat.
  • you give birth to your first child after age 30 or never give birth.
  • you began menstruating early or experienced menopause late.
  • you are obese (very overweight).

How can you check for breast cancer?

You need to take three steps to detect a breast cancer:

  • Perform monthly breast self-exams.
  • Have yearly well-woman exams that include manual breast examination.
  • Have yearly mammograms once you are over age forty.

What are some possible signs of breast cancer?

Any of the following changes in your breasts could be an indication of breast cancer. If you notice any of these changes, you should contact your health care practitioner immediately.

  • a lump
  • dimpling or puckering of the breast or nipple
  • nipple discharge
  • one breast hanging lower than the other
  • one breast growing bigger than the other
  • a change in the color or texture of the skin of the breast or nipple
  • unusual swelling of the upper arm

When should you do a breast self-exam?

You should do a breast self-exam every month about a week after your period when your breasts are the least tender and swollen.

How do you do a breast self-exam?

Traditionally, THE BREAST SELF-EXAM IS DONE IN THREE STEPS. Your mobility impairment may cause you to alter the techniques described here, and you may have to have your personal assistant help you with your exam. Do not be discouraged. The key to the breast-self-exam is not that it is done exactly as we describe, but that you or someone else looks at and feels your breasts and armpits for changes each month.

Steps for the breast self-exam.

1) Look at your breasts in a mirror. Look from the front and the both sides. First rest your arms at your sides, then clasp your hands behind your head and press forward, then press your hands on your hips.

2) Feel your breasts while you are standing or sitting up. Move the pads of your fingers in an up and down or circular pattern so that you do not miss any part of your chest and breast area. Then feel above and below the collarbone and the underarm areas for swelling. You may wish to do this while you are showering.

3) Feel your breasts while you are lying down.

For more information on breast cancer and a full explanation with diagrams of the breast self-exam, please visit breastcancer.org, womenshealth.gov, and the Komen Foundation.

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Written and Designed by Stephanie Pendergrass and Margaret Nosek Ph.D.
Copyright 2000 Center for Research on Women with Disabilities

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