It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month and a good reminder to all women to check their breasts. Learn how you can spot anything unusual or potentially dangerous by conducting a regular breast self-exam.
No one wants to hear the “C” word. And yet, more women are receiving this alarming diagnosis. As of the end of last year, WHO reports that there were 7.8 million women alive who were diagnosed with breast cancer in the past five years, making it the world’s most prevalent cancer. Just in 2020, there were 2.3 million women diagnosed with breast cancer. Scary statistics and one that is shocking enough for all of us to realise that our breasts could do with some TLC (Touch, Look, Check).
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month so expect to see lots of pink advertising this month to help raise awareness – think pinkathons, pink afternoon tea sets, pink cosmetics deals, monuments lit in pink. Of course the only way to make sure you and your breasts are fine is to check them on a regular basis, because early detection is key. We’re not talking about annual mammograms for 40-something mamas but feeling your boobs on a monthly basis, so you know what’s your normal and what’s not. But before we school you in breast self-examination, let’s lay down the basics.
Read more: Making Sense Of Mammograms
Who Is At Risk For Breast Cancer?
Anyone with boobs.
That’s not just women but men, transgender, cisgender, basically anyone with breast tissue can get cancer of the breast. It’s definitely far more common in women, but the American Cancer Society estimates that one in 1,000 men will also suffer from breast cancer at some point in their lives.
Another breast cancer myth is that the disease is all down to genetics, but did you know that 80% of the people who get breast cancer don’t have any family history? So, let’s not only blame the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes which raise the breast cancer risk by a whopping 56%; the grave diagnosis has got a lot to do with your age, lifestyle, oestrogen and progesterone exposure, alcohol use or abuse, unhealthy body weight, activity level and environment as well.
Changes To Watch Out For While Checking Your Breasts
Breasts are lumpy. When I first started doing monthly exams, I would live in constant fear of being a living ball of tumours. But after a couple of months, you get the hang of what’s your normal, what your boobs look and feel like at a certain point in your menstrual cycle, so when something’s off, you will know to alert your doctor.
When To Do A Breast Self-Examination?
The best time for a self-exam is the fourth or the fifth day of your menstrual cycle, that’s when the pre-period breast thickening has subsided so there will be no unusual breast tenderness. The general rule of thumb is to check your breasts for irregularities at the same time every month.
Look Out for These Signs While Doing A Breast Self-Exam
- Any hard, irregular blob which does not move with your fingers or the rest of your breast tissue.
- Any lumpy/bumpy swelling or dimpling, or changes in the texture of your boob or towards the armpit.
- Changes in the shape or size of one boob.
- Nipple discharge in one or both breasts (when you’re not pregnant or way past breastfeeding).
- Swollen lymph nodes in the armpit or around the neck bone.
- Thickening of the areola, any redness or scaliness in this area.
If something does strike a nerve, don’t go into panic mode, keep calm and know that most lumps are harmless tumours, but consult your doctor for further tests.
How To Perform A Breast Self-Exam Correctly
Lie down on your back on the bed or stand in the shower and put your hand above the head. Use the index, middle and ring finger of the other hand to begin the exam.
Mentally divide the breast into four quadrants and then start by pressing your fingers firmly into the armpit using circular motions while coming towards the nipple.
Check one part of the breast at a time and then work your way around the entire boob.
Repeat the process on both breasts.
Check firmly under your armpits for any swollen lymph nodes – they’ll feel like peas under your skin.
Squeeze the nipples to see if there is any abnormal discharge. By abnormal discharge, we mean any discharge which shouldn’t be there or blood.
Stand in front of the mirror and observe the shape, size and texture of your breasts. Is there a change? Anything suspicious like bumps, rashes or retracted nipples which don’t look normal, need to be reported to the doctor straight away.
Always remember – a little TLC can go a long way. Keep a close watch on your twins and stay healthy!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally written by Nikita Mishra in October 2018 and most recently updated in October 2021.