Breast cancer is a common disease that affects women at any age although it usually develops in women older than fifty. It is one of the most common causes of death in women but early detection could lead to treatment of the disease. Women are therefore encouraged to perform breast self-examination at least once a month as part of their health regimen. You should know what to look for during breast self examination and how to carry out the procedure correctly.
Breast self-examination (BSE) is a procedure every woman aged 20 and above can do regularly, even when they are pregnant or after menopause. Experts recommend performing this procedure every month. Every woman is encouraged to be familiar with her own breasts to detect any changes, if any should develop. Here are some guidelines:
- Women who still menstruate can best examine their breasts a few days after their period, when their breasts are least likely to feel swollen or tender.
- Menopausal women can perform their BSE on a specific day of the month (for example, the first day) to keep a regular schedule.
- Women who are taking hormones may consult their doctors about doing BSE.
What to Look for
Consult your doctor if you find any of these changes in your breast:
- A lump
- An abnormal discharge (not breast milk)
- Breast swelling
- Skin dimpling or irritation
- Any abnormality in the nipple (redness, pain, scaliness, turning inward)
A lump in the breast or something that feels different in the breast tissue may not necessarily mean you have a malignancy (cancer). It may be related to menstrual or hormonal changes. However, it is always best to see your doctor for definitive diagnosis, especially if there are other changes in the breast or nipple.
How to Do Breast Self Examination
1. Stand in Front of a Mirror
Using a large mirror, check each breast for any unusual changes. Examine your skin for dimpling, puckering, or scaling. Check for any nipple discharge.
While looking into the mirror, clasp hands behind the head and press them forward. You will feel tightening of your chest muscles. Check for any changes in the contour or shape of the breasts.
Next, place your hands on the hips and bend forward while pulling the shoulders and elbows toward the mirror. Again, look for any changes. Lastly, squeeze the nipple gently to examine for discharge.
2. Lying down
It is best to examine the breasts while lying flat because the tissues spread evenly on the chest. Lie down with one arm over the head and a folded towel or small pillow under your shoulder. Using the finger pads of the other hand, carefully check your breast by pressing firmly in circles, lines, or wedges to feel for any lump under the skin.
Here is a video to demonstrate more detailed instructions:
3. In the Shower
BSE can also be performed while you are in the shower. Examine one breast at a time. The procedure is the same with checking while standing in front of a mirror.