Conducting self-breast examination or regularly examining your breasts yourself is an important way to detect breast cancer in its initial states. If detected early, there is a higher probability of successful treatment. Today, there are no specific tests that can detect breast cancer early, but self-examination along with other screening methodologies can increase the likeability of early diagnosis.
Over the passage of time, there has been an ongoing debate over the significance of breast self-examination in detecting breast cancer early, increasing the chances of survival amongst patients. For instance, a study conducted in 2008 where almost 400,000 Russian and Chinese women participated deduced that self-examination of breast does not have a staunch impact on breast cancer survival and can cause more harm than good by forcing unwarranted biopsy procedures. Due to the uncertainty flagged by this research, the American Cancer Society does not recommend conducting self-examination of breast as a tool for screening breast cancer amongst women.
Irrespective of the research, many healthcare professionals still believe that self-examining breasts is useful for screening. However, these need to be paired with regular physical examinations by healthcare professionals, ultrasounds, mammography, or MRI. All of these tools work in their distinct fashion and have their strengths and weaknesses.
Conducting breast self-exam is convenient and efficient way that women of all ages can use anytime. It is suggested that all women conduct their routine breast self-exam considering it an essential part of their breast cancer screening strategy.
To conduct your breast self-examination, stand in front of the mirror looking at the breast. Make sure your shoulders are straight and place your arms on the hips.
You need to analyze whether:
In case, you notice any such change, inform your health care provider. These changes include:
Now, raise your arms and observe the changes.
While you are observing yourself in the mirror, look for any fluid coming out from both or one nipple. The fluid can range from anythng like milk, water, blood or yellow fluid.
Now while lying down start feeling your breast using your right hand to feel your left breast and left hand to feel your right breast. Make sure your touch is firm and smooth where the first few fingers pad on your hand keeping all fingers flat together. Use a circular motion to feel your breast.
Make sure to cover your entire breast from side to side and top to bottom. Take your armpit, cleavage, top of abdomen and collar bone into account.
Your goal is to cover your whole breasts. Start from the nipple, move in larger circles until you reach out to the edge of your breasts. Move your fingers up, down vertically in rows which is the preferred way of self-examination of most women.
When examining, make sure to feel all tissues from the front to the back. For the tissue and skin beneath, use light to medium pressure and exert medium pressure for the deep tissues at the back. When you reach the deep tissues, you will be able to feel down to your rib cage.
Finally, feel your breasts while you are sitting or standing. Most women find it easier to feel their breasts when their body is slippery or wet after shower.
Once you are done with your breast assessment, do not panic if you discover a lump. Most women have small lumps or lumpy areas in the breast all the time. However, in most cases, the lumps are benign i.e. not cancerous. There are a variety of reasons for non-cancerous lumps such as benign breast conditions, trauma or hormonal changes.
Do not hesitate to call your healthcare provider if you notice any breast changes or lumps that are worrisome or new. This is particularly true for changes that last for more than one menstrual cycle or seem to get bigger or larger in some way. If you have your menstruation, it is ideal to wait before you see a doctor as the lump may disappear on its own.
The best practitioner to approach when you detect a lump is your regular physician, nurse or gynecologist.
When you reach your healthcare professional for an appointment to assess your lump, your doctor will note your history and conduct a physical examination of your breast. She/he is most likely to order a breast imaging test such as an ultrasound to evaluate a lump in women under the age of 30, are breast feeding or pregnant. Generally, ultrasound and mammograms are recommended to assess women who are above 30, breastfeeding and not pregnant. In case further testing is needed, your doctor may suggest a MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), MBI (molecular breast imaging), and/or a biopsy. Your doctor may also refer you to a breast surgeon or specialist for advance assessment.
It is important that your healthcare professionals gives you an explanation of the lumps, breast changes etc. along with a plan for monitoring or treating. If you are not satisfied with the advice of the first doctor, please opt for a second opinion.