Aside from skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer amongst Americans. After lung cancer, breast cancer reigns second on the list of all cancer-related deaths, with an estimated expectancy of 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer to be diagnosed by the end of this year. 

Despite the dip in overall breast cancer deaths between 1989 and 2015, Black women succumb to breast cancer at a higher frequency rate than white women. While the average diagnosis age happens to be 50 and older, Black women are diagnosed at a much younger age with a death expectancy at 62-years-old, as opposed to 70-years-old for white women. 

While many diagnoses aren’t given until later on in life, it doesn’t mean that breast health should be taken lightly early in life. This past June, Emmy-award winning filmmaker Mae Ryan and data journalist Mona Chalabi released their Touch Your Tits campaign which encouraged people to touch their breast to both become familiar with them, and to notice any changes that might occur with them in hopes of catching lumps before it’s too late. 

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Byrdie Beauty spoke with Elizabeth Comen, MD, of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, along with gynecologist and DeoDoc expert Gunvor Ekman-Ordeberg, MD, PhD to ask some important questions about when to perform self-breast exams, what to look out for and a commonly forgotten part of the body that many forget to check when self-examining. 

Becoming comfortable with self-examinations of your own breasts is crucial when learning your body and increasing awareness towards any changes that can develop. It is often recommended to begin checking your breasts in your mid-20s to improve familiarity with them. Performing self-examinations can be done one week after your period, when your breasts are less swollen. For those who are postmenopausal, checking your breasts monthly is still recommended. 

When examining, you should check to see that your breasts haven’t changed in size, shape or color. Dr. Comen proceeds to share, "When touching their breasts, women should [also] feel for new lumps as well as skin or nipple changes." Other changes to keep an eye out for, according to Ekman-Ordeberg, would be rashes, skin texture changes, armpit and/or collarbone swelling and nipple discharge that happens without squeezing.

When checking your breasts, be mindful that your breast tissue extends to your armpit area. This simply means to broaden your examination under your armpit to ensure that there aren’t any lumps hiding there as well. For those who may prefer not to perform their own breast exam, it’s absolutely okay to request an exam from your doctor at least once a year and seek medical attention if any of the aforementioned changes occur.  

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