Most important health checks for women
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, but in truth, every month should be focused on the good health of women. The earlier illness is detected, the more effectively it can be treated.
The two most important health checks are monthly breast self-examinations and annual pap smears. These two critical checks can help detect cancer while it’s still early enough to treat it, which is why it’s so important to be vigilant about them.
How to do a breast self-examination
Make sure you do this test every month, ideally three to five days after your period ends. If you no longer get your period, choose a set day every month, like the first day of the month, and stick to it.
1. Stand in front of the mirror and look at your breasts. Lift your arms above your head as though trying to reach the ceiling, and look at your breasts in a stretched position.
2. Check to see that there are no obvious changes between the two sides: no nipple changes or visible lumps.
3. Now feel your breasts. Use the flat surface of your fingers. Always keep your hand flat on your breast. A good idea is to apply cream, shower gel, soap or oil to your breasts before beginning. This will help your hand glide easily over your skin and make it easier to feel for lumps.
4. Put one hand on your head, and use the free hand to check the opposite breast.
5. Begin by feeling for lumps in the armpit.
6. Now move in the figure of a six and around the entire breast, until you reach the nipple.
7. Now go back to the armpit, moving from the top to the bottom of the breast, covering the whole area once again.
8. Finally, move from the armpit in a side-to-side direction, again covering the whole breast. Remember that the breast starts from the collarbone and continues down to your abdominal wall, and it runs from your breastbone to mid-way through your side.
9. Also check for any discharge from the nipple. To do this, gently squeeze the nipple to see if any fluid comes out. The only time that fluid should come out is if you’re breast-feeding. If the fluid is yellow or green, it indicates infection. If it is clear, or if blood comes out, go to the doctor immediately for a check-up.
What to look out for during a breast self-exam
• A lump in the breast or armpit. These can range from marble-sized to tennis ball-sized.
• Increase in the size of one breast.
• Swelling in glands of armpit.
• Enlargement of one arm.
• Dimpling of the skin.
• Dimpling of or changes to the nipple.
• Discharge from the nipple.
• Lowering of one breast or nipple.
• ‘Orange peel’ appearance to the skin of the breast and/or nipple.
• Retraction of one or both nipples.
• Dry skin (eczema) of the nipple.
A pap smear is a quick, simple health test that checks for cervical cancer in women. You can learn more about pap smears and why they’re so important in this post and this post.
It’s essential that all women have annual pap smears once they become sexually active. These can be performed by your doctor or at a clinic.
Well Woman packages at Marie Stopes
Marie Stopes offers affordable Well Woman packages that provide all the vital health checks you need in a confidential environment. We’ll also take your medical history, advise you on performing breast self-exams and answer any questions you have.