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The top 5 self-exam mistakes - Breast-Cancer Prevention Special

After recovering from my mastectomy, I had a private breast self-exam session with the nurse at my oncologist's office. She wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing. Piece of cake, I thought, as I showed her everything I'd learned from a shower hang card. Turns out, even though I'd had breast cancer, I was completely clueless ... and far from alone. Here are the most common breast self-exam (BSE) mistakes women make, from Kathleen Calderon, R.N., a breast-health specialist for Little Company of Mary Hospital in Torrance, Calif.

1. Convincing yourself it doesn't matter Early detection through BSE is possible. "It can mean the difference between a lumpectomy and radiation therapy vs. a mastectomy and chemotherapy," Calderon says.

2. Being too scared or uncomfortable to do it To ease your anxiety, think of BSE like this: The goal is not to diagnose a dreaded disease but simply to become familiar with how your breasts feel and to report any suspicious changes to your doctor.

3. Doing it at the wrong time of the month Normal hormonal changes make many women's breasts lumpy, tender or swollen in the weeks before and during their menstrual period, which can make a self-exam confusing. Do BSE the week after your period ends.

4. Not knowing what you're doing "Women are more alert to changes in their hair than in their breasts," Calderon says. First, look for redness, rashes, swelling or nipple discharge. Then do your manual exam. "Cover the entire rectangle extending from below your collarbone to the bottom of your bra, and from armpit to armpit," Calderon says. (See the box below for BSE resources and other aids.)

5. Whizzing through It may seem like it takes forever to check that whole rectangle, but if you can brush your teeth for one minute twice a day, you can take 10 minutes to do BSE once a month.

RELATED ARTICLE: BSE info and other resources

The following organizations offer self-exam information and aids:

* The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation Komen.org

* American Cancer Society cancer.org

* University of Pennsylvania pennhealth.com

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