Increasing the odds of early detection of breast cancer begins with knowing your own breasts.

Becoming familiar with the grooves, lines and dips of your own breasts is the first step. Do this in front of a mirror so that you know how they feel and look.

The second step to early detection is a self-examination. A self-examination should not be used in place of more in-depth screening techniques, such as regular mammograms. If you are already familiar with your own breasts, then a self-examination should only take a few minutes, at most. You are checking for any abnormal lumping, caving, skin-pulling, hard nodules or dimpling. Check that your breasts are their normal shape and size. Look for discoloration or swelling. Unexplained redness, soreness or a rash should be checked out by your general practitioner.

Raise your hands above your head and look for the same differences. Check your nipples for abnormal discharge (milky, watery, bloody or yellow).

Now that you have checked everything while standing up, find a place to lay down and perform a similar exam. A hand mirror is helpful while laying down to look for changes. Feel around again for abnormalities. The National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. recommends moving around the breast in a pattern of small circles. Make certain to check for abnormalities in both breasts.

If you find any abnormalities, make sure to see your doctor. They will likely schedule an ultrasound or a mammogram to be certain.