Breast cancer is a dangerous tumour that develops in your breast/s. As with any other cancer, an early diagnosis and treatment can save your life. It is important to conduct breast exams on yourself at least once a month to make sure you pick up on any abnormalities timeously.
Firstly, if you notice a firm lump in your breast which is growing and/or causing you pain and discomfort, visit your doctor for a proper diagnosis immediately.
Conducting a breast exam:
The Visual Exam:
- Step 1: Start by standing in front of a mirror with your upper body naked and your arms at your side.
- Step 2: Check for puckering, dimpling, changes in size, shape or symmetry, or inverted nipples (turned inward).
- Step 3: Inspect your breasts with your hands pressed on your hips and then with your arms raised overhead with palms pressed together.
- Step 4: Lift your breasts and check that the ridges at the bottom are symmetrical.
The Physical Exam:
- Step 1: Lie down on a flat surface completely (not propped up on pillows) so that the breast tissue is spread out. This makes it thinner and easier to feel.
- Step 2: Use your right hand to examine your left breast and vice versa. Use the pads of your index, middle, and ring fingers (not fingertips) to examine your breasts. Keep your fingers together and flat and use a circular motion to conduct the exam. You should inspect the entire breast going from top to bottom (collarbone to upper abdomen) and side to side (armpit to cleavage). You can either start from the collarbone and work your way to the nipple or start from the nipple and work your way outwards.
- Step 3: Adjust your pressure throughout the exam. Use light pressure for the skin and tissue just beneath; medium pressure in the middle of your breasts; and firm pressure for the deep tissue at the back (you should be able to feel down to your ribcage with this pressure). Make sure you apply each pressure level on one spot before moving on to the next.
- Step 4: Examine your breasts whilst standing. You could also do this in the shower but make sure to lather your breasts and fingers with soap so your fingers can move easily over the skin. Use the same method as you did lying down to inspect your breasts while standing.
If you do happen to find a lump in your breasts, don’t panic! There are many women who have lumps or lumpy areas in their breast and these are most often non-cancerous. These lumps can form because of hormonal changes, benign breast conditions, or from injury. It is important to visit your doctor if you find any lumps in your breasts for a proper diagnosis.