24 Nov Breast Self-Exam: Check Yourself!
Unfortunately as women, we are all at some risk for developing breast cancer. Recent studies show that approximately 12.4% of women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their life (1). Don’t panic, this doesn’t mean your are going to have it, it just means that it is something to be aware of. The good news is that we have in our hands a tool to protect ourselves: breast self-examination.
Checking your breasts on a regular basis is the best way to ensure early detection of any condition. Self-examination is about observing and touching your breasts following a specific technique so that you can identify possible changes and communicate them to your doctor in time.
It may be uncomfortable and awkward for some women, but it is very important that you become familiar with your breasts and check them regularly. Breast self-exam will only take 5 minutes of your time: a simple habit that can have a huge impact on your health and your life!
When should I do the Self-exam?
Try to do the check once a month to familiarize yourself with the normal appearance and touch of your breasts. It is best to examine yourself several days after your period is over, when your breasts are less swollen or tender. If you are no longer menstruating, just do it always the same day or around, to be able to follow up (2).
How To Do the Breast Self-Exam?
Breast self-examination has two main parts: observation and palpation. That is, how your breasts look, and how they feel to touch. Let us begin!
We will observe our breasts in 3 different postures, in front of a mirror.
- Arms down
- Arms on your hips
- Arms up, hands clasped behind the head.
What are we looking for? We look for variations or anomalies in its size, shape, color, and state of the skin. The most important is to check there are no roughness, inflammation, lumps, or dimples. (3)
- Usual size, shape, and color
- Evenly shaped breasts with no swelling
- Dimpling or bulging of skin
- Nipples that have changed position or are inverted
- Redness, soreness, rash, or swelling
It’s time to play. But how to do it?
- Standing: Raise your left arm and put your hand on your neck. Use your right hand to palpate the left breast, and then the other way around. Check your breasts with circular movements, from the armpit to the nipple, checking if you notice any lumps. Then move up and down and side to side. The most important is to follow a pattern to make sure you have covered the entire breast.
- Lying down: lie on the bed face up. Put a pillow under your left shoulder to feel your left breast. Check your breast as well as standing, and then do it with the other breast. Again, it is about checking if there are lumps or abnormalities.
- Nipples: now look for any signs of fluid coming out of your nipples. Squeeze the nipples. If there is any type of fluid, take note of its characteristics (transparent, milky or bloody) to describe them to your doctor.
Done! By doing this exam regularly you will know “your normal” (the normal appearance of your breasts), and therefore you will be able to identify clearly if/when something changes.
What to do if you notice any change in your breasts?
It is important not to panic or draw conclusions directly. They may be normal changes, or they even may be a sign of another problem. The most important is to go to the doctor and inform them about the change you have noticed.
Even if you are not sure about the change, or have noticed something strange on your first palpation (and therefore you are not so familiar with “your normal”), it is good to discuss it with the doctor to make sure everything is fine.
And remember, the percentage of survival to breast cancer is approximately 80% of cases. It is worth spending 5 minutes doing prevention! (2)
- Seer.cancer.gov. (2017). Cancer of the Breast (Female) – Cancer Stat Facts. [online] Available at: https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/breast.html [Accessed 30 Oct. 2017].
- Greenstein Orel, M.D., S. (2016). Breast Self-Exam (BSE) | Breastcancer.org. [online] Breastcancer.org. Available at: http://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/testing/types/self_exam [Accessed 30 Oct. 2017]
- Breastcancer.org. (2017). The Five Steps of a Breast Self-Exam | Breastcancer.org. [online] Available at: http://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/testing/types/self_exam/bse_steps?utm_medium=OBWidget&utm_source=OB [Accessed 30 Oct. 2017].