Image source: Zoha Nve
How to do a self breast exam?
Why is it important for a woman?
What if you are pregnant or breastfeeding- will it make it difficult to do breast self-examination?
Let us see the answers to these questions.
February 4th of every year is observed as World Cancer Day.
World Cancer Day 2015 is observed under the tagline ‘Not beyond us’. This year’s campaign is to highlight that solutions do exist across the continuum of cancer and that they are within our reach.
Bumps n Baby team is also taking a small step to spread the word on cancer awareness. As majority of the readers of our blog are women, I thought it would be better to discuss about breast cancer.
In today’s post we will discuss on how to do breast self-examination to know the chances of breast cancer.
What is cancer in the breast mean?
Breast cancer is a malignant tumor or abnormal growth that affects the cells of the breast.
The disease occurs mainly in women, but in very rare cases men can get it too. In that case it is called chest cancer.
Warning signs and symptoms of breast cancer
The most common symptoms of breast cancer include a change in your breast and nipple. Any change in the feel, look or color of your breast and/or nipple or nipple discharge is the first thing to note as a warning sign for breast cancer.
Common signs include:
- A lump or thickening of the breast tissue
- Pain in one part of the breast
- Pain in the armpit
- One breast becoming larger or lower due to unidentified reason
- Nipple becoming inverted or change in shape/position of nipple
- Crinkling or dimpling of skin
- Swelling under the armpit
- Swelling around the collarbone
- A rash on nipple or around the nipple area
- Abnormal nipple discharge
Please note that an estimated 80 to 90 percent of breast lumps or changes in breast aren’t cancerous. So, just finding a change or lump in the breast shouldn’t panic you.
Keep calm and talk to your doctor if you feel any of the above symptoms.
What is a breast self exam or BSE?
Breast self-exam (BSE) is way to track or find out any changes in the breasts and is done by the woman herself. It is done by looking at and feeling your breast for any unusual or abnormal changes.
With cases of Cancer increasing, it is a must that every woman should be familiar with how her breasts feel and look normally. This will help her to easily identify changes in her breasts.
Why self breast examinations are important?
The benefits of self breast exam is that it helps to detect breast cancer at an early stage. If the detected breast cancer is at an early stage, there are treatments available to tame this killer disease and increase your chances of survival.
Out of all the confirmed cases of breast cancer, around 40% are diagnosed after the women suspect/feel a lump or change in their breast. Hence establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important (according to Johns Hopkins Medical center).
Even those who are not doing regular breast self-exam should know how their breasts normally look and feel.
But please understand that though breast self-examination is a good method to find changes in breast, it not recommended as a screening tool for breast cancer. Routine mammography is the best way and right way for breast cancer detection.
Consulting a doctor right away if you feel a change in your breast can help you, as the doctor will do the needful to find out if it is cancerous or not.
When to do a breast self exam?
All women above the age of 20 should perform a breast self-exam.
Hormonal changes due to mensuration and ovulation can affect the size and feel of your breasts. It is best to perform the exam when your breasts are least affected by these hormonal changes and so the best time to do self breast exam is a few days after your monthly period ends and before your suspected ovulation date.
For women who have stopped menstruating the best self breast exam timing is once in a month. They should perform the exam, on a certain day every month, for example the first day of each month.
How to do a self breast exam or BSE?
A breast self-exam can be done at the comfort of your home. You don’t require any medical equipment or assistance for this.
Let us see how BSE can be done at home.
Breast Self Exam while lying down:
- Undress and lie down on a flat surface or bed
- Put your left arm under your head
- With your right hand examine your left breast
- Using your 3 middle fingers, move gently in a circular motion over the entire breast. Check if there are any lumps, hardened tissues or knots
- Use different levels of pressure – light, medium and firm-over each area of your breast
- Cover the whole breast area while checking, starting from your collarbone down to the ribs
- Switch arms and repeat on the other breast
Breast Self Exam using mirror:
- Place your hands on your hips and stand straight and naked in front of your mirror
- Look at your breast for any lumps, new difference in size and shape and swelling or wrinkling of the skin
- Raise one arm at a time and check under your arms for any lumps
- Squeeze gently the nipple of each breast using your thumb and index finger. See if any abnormal discharge is there
- Consult a doctor right away if any symptoms or warning signs appear in your breast exam
Breast Self-Exam can be done while taking a shower too. Some women find it easy to feel their skin when it is moist.
Breast self exam for pregnant and lactating moms
Pregnancy and breastfeeding are two stages that can bring a number of changes to your whole body, especially breasts. This same reason makes it difficult to do a proper breast self exam during your pregnancy and breastfeeding period.
Read about the common early signs of pregnancy.
But being pregnant or breastfeeding is no excuse when it comes to BSE. You are recommended to follow the steps of the normal self breast exam and see for any changes in the breast.
If your mind says that the change you feel is not related to your pregnancy or breastfeeding and if the lump or change you detected is not going even after a week do tell this to your doctor.
Note that if you are breastfeeding one breast for a longer time than the other, the later can be smaller than the first. So if you notice size difference don’t panic and try breastfeeding equally with both breasts.
For women who have stopped breastfeeding can have some amount of milk discharge before the breast completely dries out. But if you find the discharge to be smelly or have blood traces or you feel it is abnormal please visit your doctor.
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Hope this article on breast self exam helped you. Remember prevention is better than cure.
Perform the breast self exam today for your healthy tomorrow.
Share with me in comments, your thoughts on the need of breast cancer awareness among women.