Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women today. While many of us probably used to associate breast cancer with older women, over the last few years a number of high profile young women such as Kylie Minogue, Anastasia and most recently Christina Applegate have fought off this devasting disease. For women of all ages, the breast self-exam is a useful tool that is easily learned. It is used to look for unusual lumps, skin changes, or discharge and should be done once a month. The best time to check is a week after your periods. Starting today, I will post a reminder on the first of every month to jog your memory. Like today, it will include a guide to check your breasts, from http://www.healthfirst.net.au./ Please take five minutes a month to do this important check. Early detection could mean the difference bewteen life and death.
There are two important ways to check your breasts. The first is by looking. A mirror should be used to check the breasts for pulls, dents, odd colouring, or lumps. The best positions for inspecting are leaning forward, arms on hips tightly, or standing upright with both arms over your head. When checking the breasts, keep in mind that both breasts should look the same, especially around the nipple.
The second way to check the breasts is by feeling. There are two ways to do this part of the exam and it is best to use a different one each month. One method uses water or oil on the skin to help fingers glide over the skin more easily. The shower can be a good place for this kind of exam. The second way is to use a thin T-shirt or sheet over the breasts. In both of these ways, the little skin lumps and bumps are less noticeable. Feel the breast tissue for any areas that feel different from the rest of the breast. Sometimes a difference will be a ball or lump. Yet other times it will be a thickened band or a deep, hard area that does not move like the rest of the breast.
When feeling the breasts:
- Check the breast in two or three positions, such as lying down, standing up, and even leaning forward.
- Use the palm surface of the fingers, not the tips, to move the breast.
- Divide the exam into parts. Examine one part from the outside of the breast into the nipple, and then from the inside to the outer edge. Realize the breast tail goes into the armpit, so the exam needs to include that area.
- Remember the nipple is important, too. There is less breast tissue right under the nipple, so any lump there is a concern. The value of checking for discharge from the nipple is a debate since regular, hard squeezing of the nipple alone can cause a discharge. The gentle exam done towards your nipple is usually enough to show if there is a discharge. Any blood from the nipple needs to be evaluated by a doctor.
Breast self-exam is not a substitute for mammography or for regular exams by a doctor. Be sure to keep regular appointments as recommended by your doctor.