Breast cancer, a diagnosis every woman prays not to hear, relax. Did you recently feel a lump in your breast? Maybe, actively (on examination) or passively? It will interest you to know that not all symptoms are suggestive of breast cancer? If you have ever been confused about how to properly do a self-breast examination? Well, you’re in the right place, read on.
The importance of self-breast examination cannot be overemphasized. It helps for the early detection of abnormal physical changes in the breast and early detection of breast cancer. Remember early detection improves treatment and survival outcomes, do not panic.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD I DO A SELF BREAST EXAMINATION?
For women who haven’t gotten to menopause-
A breast self–examination should be done monthly, around the same time, typically, right after your menstrual period has ended (about 5 days is advised), for easy remembrance. This timing is also best advised, because the breasts get lumpy and tender (painful), during the days leading to your period. This is as a result of hormonal changes associated with menstruation. These breast changes that occur during the menstrual period can lead to false positive results.
For Menopausal Women: Choose the same date every month. Eg. the 1st of every month or the last date of every month.
You could also set reminders in your phone or mark your Google calendar for when it should be done monthly to ensure compliance.
HOW TO DO A SELF BREAST EXAMINATION.
Step 1- VISUAL EXAMINATION.
Begin with a visual examination of your breasts.
Sit or stand shirtless and braless in front of a mirror with your arms at your sides.
Then check for this
1. Face forward and look for any dimpling, or changes in size or shape of your breast.
2. Check to see if your nipples are retracted (ie. If the nipples are inverse). It is worthy of note that not all inverted nipples are cancerous. In fact, some women were born with inverted nipples. The problem arises when a woman with a previously erect nipple, notices significant retraction of one or both nipples.
3. Check for any nipple discharge (for non-lactating mothers). Discharge may be milky, white, water-coloured, pus-like, bloody. while some discharge comes out on its own, some may surface with gentle nipple manipulation (squeezing) as shown in the next step. This may be a sign of hyperprolactnaemia (excess prolactin in the blood- Prolactin- is a hormone responsible for milk let-down), this can be treated and is not with malignant (cancerous). There are other causes of breast discharge, which will be discussed at a later date.
Step 2 – PALPATION OF THE BREAST.
Next, use your hands to examine your breasts
The most popular method for self-breast examination is the lying down method.
Choose a bed or other flat surface to lie down on your back and raise your hand above your head. When lying down, the breast tissue spreads out, making it thinner and easier to feel.
1. Use the three middle finger pads for examination.
2. Be patient while doing it to ensure you get the best results.
Follow a pattern. Use a methodical technique to ensure you examine your entire breast.
Divide your breast into 4 sections and examine each section. Using the flat pads of your three middle fingers—not the tips—move the pads of your fingers in little circles. For each little circle, change the amount of pressure so you can feel all levels of your breast tissue. Make each circle three times—once light, once medium, and once deep—before you move on to the next area.
Start from the inner armpit down to the bra line. Continue in this up and down movement till the whole breast has been examined.
Gently squeeze the nipple, checking for discharge. Note any breast pain or tenderness.
Do this for both breasts.
Clinical breast examination should be done every three years from ages 20-39, then every year thereafter.
Monthly breast self-examinations should be done from 20 years and above.
If you find a lump (a hardened mass) or notice other unusual changes, don’t panic. About 80% of lumps found are not cancerous. However, you should see your doctor promptly for further evaluation.
Breast cancer screening is the medical screening of asymptomatic, apparently healthy women for breast cancer in an attempt to achieve an earlier diagnosis. The assumption is that early detection will improve outcomes.
There are different types of breast screening. They are;
- Digital Mammography.
- Digital Breast Tomosynthesis (3-D Mammography)
- Breast Ultrasound.
- Breast MRI.
- Breast Needle Biopsy.
- Cyst or Fine Needle Aspiration.
Of all these, the most common breast screening is digital mammography also known as x-ray of the breast which is very common in our environment- Nigeria.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD MAMMOGRAPHY BE DONE?
- Women between 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms (x-rays of the breast) if they wish to do so.
- Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
- Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years or can continue yearly screening.
- Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.
Repeat this self breast exam every month—even if you’re pregnant—to become more familiar with how your breasts normally look and feel. Remember, every woman’s body is unique, and some changes in one woman, may just be normal (physiological) in another woman. This why its important to regularly examine your breasts. You cannot notice the “abnormal” if you don’t know your “normal”.
If you find a lump or notice other unusual changes, don’t panic. About 80% of lumps found are not cancerous. Also, it will not all breast abnormalities or changes, indicate cancer, They might just be the symptom of another benign breast disease, an infection, or even hormones. See your doctor promptly for further evaluation. Don’t forget that breast cancer affects men too. Remember, early detection is key.
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