Over the years, there has been a constant debate on the importance of Breast Self-Examination. Does it help in detecting breast cancer early?
Well, Breast Self Examination is a useful and essential screening process for women. It can also be used in combination with regular physical exams such as mammography, ultrasounds, MRI, etc. No doubt that each of these screening tools works and it has their strengths and weaknesses.
But, Breast Self-Examination is a convenient, no-cost tool that you can do regularly and at any age.
Let us understand Breast Self-Examination in detail-
What is Breast Self-Examination?
Breast Self-Examination is a process a woman can do physically and visually to examine the breast changes. It is a screening technique you can do at home to check for breast lumps. Breast self-examination can help in screening tumours, cysts, and other abnormalities in the breast. The breast self-examination also helps in familiarizing yourself with the shape, size, and texture of your breasts.
Although, it is advised to contact a doctor, any time you feel an abnormality in your breast.
When should Breast Self-Examination be done?
Breast Self-Examination should be done to know how your breast feels and look so that you can detect any changes. Women can begin Breast Self-Examination at 20 years and can practice it throughout their lives- even after menopause and during pregnancy. Breast Self-Examination can be performed every month, and you can examine how your breasts look and feel. But it is advised that if you still menstruate, then the best time to self-exam your breasts is when your breasts have fewer chances of being tender or swollen.
How to do Breast Self-Examination? – The Five Steps
You can follow the below-mentioned steps to self-exam your breasts –
Step 1 – Look at your breasts in the mirror with straight shoulders and arms on your hips.
You should look for –
– Breasts that have usual size, shape, and colour
– Breasts which are evenly shaped without visible distortion or swelling.
In case you see any of the above changes, bring them to your doctor’s attention –
– Dimpling, Puckering, or bulging of the skin
– An inverted nipple or a nipple that has changed position
– Redness, soreness, swelling, or rash
Step 2 – Raise your arms and look for the same changes.
Step 3 – While you are at the mirror, look for any signs of fluid coming out of one or both nipples.
Step 4 – Next, feel your breasts while lying down. You can use your right hand to feel your left breast and then use your left hand to feel your right breast. Give a firm and smooth touch with the first few finger pads of your hand. It is advised to move your hands in a circular motion around your breast.
Cover your breast entirely from top to bottom – from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen and from your armpit to cleavage.
It is crucial to follow a pattern and cover your whole breast. You can begin from the nipple, moving in larger and larger circles until you reach the outer edge of the breast. The best approach that works for most of the woman is to move fingers up and down vertically. Be sure to feel the tissue from the front to the back of your breasts.
Step 5 – The fifth step is to feel your breast when you are standing or sitting. Many women feel that the easiest way to feel their breasts is when their skin is wet or slippery. Hence, gently squeeze your nipples to check for discharge.
Step 6 – The last step is to examine the Axillary Lymph Modes, which are located in axilla or armpit. The easiest way to do is to place your fingers high in the axilla against the chest wall and lower your arms. Then, drag your fingers against the chest wall and feel your nodes while rolling your finger.
What if you find a lump?
Well, one of the scariest moment for a woman is to see or feel something unusual, while performing Breast Self-Examination. In case you find a lump, follow the below key points –
- Don’t Panic – Most women have some lumps or lumpy areas in their breasts all the time, and it is not necessary that all lumps will turn out to be cancer.
- Consult the doctor – Always consult a doctor in case you have noticed a lump or other breast changes. If your breast change is new and worrisome, visit a doctor and get a complete test.
- Know what to expect – Your doctor will ask for health history and will conduct a physical exam of your breast. The women who are under 30 years of age or are pregnant or are breastfeeding, ultrasound is the first imaging test used to evaluate a lump in the breast. For others, usually, ultrasound and mammogram are used to check for any lumps in the breast.
- Make sure you are satisfied – It is vital that your doctor explains about the lump or other breast change. If you are not satisfied with your doctor advice, contact another doctor.
How to make breast self-examination a part of your breast cancer strategy?
- Make it a routine – The more you examine your breasts, the more you will learn about them, and it will be easier for you to notice the change. Try to do breast self-examination once a month to get familiarise with your breasts look and feel.
It is advised to examine yourself after 3-5 days when your period ends as your breasts are least likely to be tender and swollen.
- Get to know your breast areas – The upper, outer area – near your armpit which have the most lumps and bumps. There can be a possibility that the lower half of your breast can feel like a pebbly beach, and the area under the nipple can feel like a collection of large grains.
- Map your breast self-exam – It is crucial to record your breast lumps or irregularities. This will help you to record the breast changes. There are some breast lumps which only occurs as your body changes during the menstrual cycle.
We highly recommend that all women should perform breast self-examination every month as a part of overall breast self-examination strategy.