Colleen O’Kelly Priddy, MD, FACS
Breast self-exams can be intimidating–sometimes it feels like our breasts are entirely made of lumps and bumps! It can be hard to understand what you’re really looking for with a self-exam. The good news is that lumpy breasts are actually normal, and what is most important is that you are able to identify if something changes from your normal (lumpy!) baseline. This is why we now encourage breast self-awareness at all times in your cycle. The specific things that breast surgeons look for are: skin changes (thickening, redness, texture change like an orange peel); new or different lumps (that feel different than the rest of your breast tissue or that you haven’t noticed before); nipple discharge (clear or bloody discharge from a single duct is more concerning than milky or green discharge from both sides–yes, nipple discharge can be green!); changes in the shape or contour of your breast (are any areas bulging out or puckering in? Did your nipple used to be an outie but now it’s an innie?).
You don’t need to do a formal, regimented exam. This isn’t supposed to be difficult or scary. We recommend simply paying attention to what your breasts normally feel like while you’re in the shower, and look at yourself in the mirror occasionally with arms down and arms raised. The goal is for overall awareness of your breasts and what your baseline is, so you can identify changes if they occur. And remember, most of these things can have very benign causes, too. Not all breast symptoms mean cancer.
With any changes or concerns that don’t go away, though, call your doctor to get a workup. If you’re worried, we are too–and the sooner you get it worked up, the sooner you can either get reassurance that everything is okay or get treatment started. The earlier we catch breast cancer and start treatment, the better! Early detection really does save lives, so don’t forget to get your screening mammograms starting at age 40 and continue every year for average-risk women. If you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, a prior history of “precancerous” or “atypical” cells on breast biopsy, or a known breast cancer-associated genetic mutation, you may qualify for high-risk screening through the Breast Center at Mission Hope. Call 805-346-3456 with any questions.
Dr. O’Kelly is board certified in General Surgery and subspecializes in Breast Surgical Oncology. With years of training and education focused on breast disease, she has an in-depth knowledge of cancer biology, genetics and the most advanced surgical options to help patients achieve the best possible results and can provide novel and innovative treatments for breast cancer patients. Dr. O’Kelly Priddy can be reached at 805-346-3456.
Have questions about breast screening? Need help getting an appointment?
Call Julie Neiggmann, MSN, RN, Breast Cancer Nurse Navigator Santa Maria at 805-346-3405 or Carol Dichmann, RN, BSN, Oncology Nurse Navigator Arroyo GrandeGo To Patient Navigation