Cancer, in all of its hideous forms, claims lives with reckless abandon. Cancer is much more treatable and manageable when discovered early. Breast cancer is one of the most frequently diagnosed types of cancer, with estimates as high as one in nine women falling prey to breast cancer in her lifetime.
While there are many factors that contribute to breast cancer, such as heredity, diet, smoking, and viral causes, all women regardless of susceptibility should perform regular breast exams. Early detection is essential in order to begin treatments.
*When and where to check
Checking for breast cancer should be a part of a monthly routine that women carry out without fail. It is optimal to perform a self-examination at least a week after a period, as this is when a woman’s breasts are least swollen and tender to the touch.
Breast self-examinations (BSE) should be done in the entire breast, focusing everywhere, but paying particular attention to the upper and outer portions of the breast and in behind the nipples.
Women should try and keep variables consistent when performing a BSE, such as in front of the same mirror with the same lighting, at the same time of day, and in the same amount of time after a period. Trying to keep these variables consistent will afford the woman a chance to better notice any abnormality and report it immediately to their physician.
*How to check visibly for breast cancer
Each time that you perform a BSE, you should take a photograph of the breasts and keep a file that can easily be perused to see any subtle changes over time that you may not feel or as additional verification when you think that you may have detected an abnormality. When you check every month, or even if you forget and skip a month or two, it might be difficult to remember exactly how your breasts looked or what they felt like the last time. Having a visual record will be beneficial, as it could also be shared with another set of eyes, such as a husband, parent, sibling, friend, or even doctor.
Standing in front of a mirror, with your arms positioned at your side, and take notice of any changes in shape or size. If anything triggers concern, such as irregular shape, size, discolorations or rashes, proceed to the doctor right away.
Lift your arms up over your head and take note of size and shape, and then do the same with your arms up and your hands behind your ears, and then again with your hands by your chin and your palms pressed together. Keep an active eye for any changes in your breasts during this activity.
Pinch your nipples to see if there is any discharge or swelling, comparing them for a change in shape or any inversion. Be certain to keep photographs of this as well.
*How to check manually for breast cancer
While standing, use the flat portion of your fingers to feel the breasts in a flat or circular pattern. You should use the opposite hand to the breast you are examining. Next, with fingers together, press firmly in a circular fashion, feeling for any noticeable differences, also checking between the breast and armpit.
While lying down, repeat as above. Place one arm behind your head, and use the opposite hand to examine a breast, switching arms and hands for each breast.
As you continue to examine your breasts on a monthly basis, take note of any slight concerns and bring them to the attention of your doctor. As you become more familiar with the feel of your breasts, changes may become easier to detect, which will help to begin any treatments necessary in a timely fashion.