Although many cancer organizations have shifted their recommendations to monthly breast self-examsthere is still an emphasis on familiarizing women with what is “normal” for their breasts and what is not.

That’s why it’s extremely important when you’re showering, getting dressed, or relaxing on the couch that you cultivate the habit of periodically checking the area so you can get a sense of what’s normal and then spot anything new or abnormal that may appear.

There is one spot, however, that women often overlook when doing their breast self-examination, and that is the armpits.

Dr. Janet Yeh, assistant professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and chief of breast surgical oncology at NYU Langone Hospital-Brooklyn, believes many of us forget about this spot because we don’t think of it as part of our breasts. However, as he points out, “it’s connected to the chest, so it’s important to check that too. If you have breast cancer, it usually starts in the breast first and then spreads to the lymph nodes, but we have seen situations where it appears in the armpits first or only there. It’s rare and unusual, but it definitely happens».

What are axillary lymph nodes?

Lymph nodes play an important role in cancer detection. According to Dr. Arif Kamal, head of the American Cancer Society, “when breast cancer spreads, it tends to spread through nearby lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are something like checkpoint systems for the “highway” where immune system cells travel through the body. When that checkpoint area becomes enlarged, that is, when you feel a lymph node in your armpit area swollen, it can mean something is going on.”

Lymph nodes are generally enlarged when there is an infection. For example, the lymph nodes in your neck may become swollen when you have an upper respiratory infection.

Enlarged lymph nodes may be the size of a larger pea or a small ballKamal explains. Therefore, if we feel something like this in the armpit area, we should report it to our doctor.

It is important to clarify here that like breast lumps, a swollen lymph node or a lump in the armpit area is not necessarily a sign of something very serious, but it is something that should definitely be evaluated by a qualified healthcare professional.

How to check the armpit area

When it comes to how we examine the armpit area, doctors recommend the same kinds of techniques we use for our breasts.

We stand in front of the mirror and look closely at our chest. Front, right and left, and compared right to left: Skin, shape – size and nipples have changes?

  • First with the arms at the side.
  • Then hands up.
  • Finally, with the hands on the waist and leaning a little forward.

Self-realization it is preferably done when we are lying down. Alternatively, many women prefer to examine themselves standing up in the bathroom. In any case, the fingers should be used and not the whole palm, taking care to examine with gentle movements the entire extent of the breast and armpit.

After raising the arm, we start from the outside of the chest. First we palpate the armpit, looking for swollen lymph nodes. We continue with the outside of the breast, moving towards the nipple. We finish in a supine position, palpating the inner part of the chest towards the sternum.

Also, what we need to pay attention to is not only the breast tissue itself or the superficial part, but also the underlying chest wall, that is, the point just above the breast to where the collarbone is. Continue to the lymph nodes in the neck paying attention to any abnormalities up to the neck and armpit.

It is important, of course, to recognize that a breast self-exam does not replace the need for a regular mammogram, as a mammogram will look at things much more accurately than an exam done by a patient or doctor.