October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which means it’s a good time to brush up on your knowledge in order to keep yourself as healthy as possible.
Here are four things to know about early detection of breast cancer, and the simple healthcare practices you should be following.
1. Early detection of breast cancer is the best defence
If you’re diagnosed with the illness, your prognosis is strongly influenced by the stage of the disease. This means that the earlier the cancer is detected, the better your chance of successful treatment – and in some cases, the less invasive or aggressive the treatment.
2. You should start doing breast self-exams in your twenties
It’s important for you to become familiar with your breasts and how they normally look and feel as early as possible, so you’ll immediately notice if and when a change occurs.
Another benefit of breast self-exams is that they help you to detect abnormalities if you haven’t yet started going for mammograms: in most cases, mammograms are only performed on women of 40 years and older, but cancer can strike earlier than that. Breast self-exams can be performed at any age, and should be done on a monthly basis. Regular breast exams by a healthcare professional are also recommended for women in their twenties and thirties.
When you’re examining your breasts, be on the look-out for any abnormalities (like a lump) or changes to your breasts (like discharge from your nipples, ripples under your skin or changes to the shape of your breasts). Should you detect anything strange, visit your doctor or clinic right away.
3. Know your family history
Another vital aspect in early detection of breast cancer is knowledge of family history of the disease. According to Breastcancer.org, if a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) has been diagnosed with the illness, your chances of developing it are doubled. If two first-degree relatives have been diagnosed, your risk is five times higher than average. And remember: breast cancer affects both men and women.
4. Breast self-exams are easy. Here’s how to do it
Lie down on your back and place your right arm behind your head. The exam is done while lying down, not standing up. This is because when lying down the breast tissue spreads evenly over the chest wall and is as thin as possible, making it much easier to feel all the breast tissue.
Use the finger pads of the three middle fingers on your left hand to feel for lumps in the right breast. Use overlapping, coin-sized circular motions of the finger pads to feel the breast tissue.
Use the different levels of pressure to feel all the breast tissue. Light pressure is needed to feel the tissue closest to the skin; medium pressure to feel a little deeper; and firm pressure to feel the tissue closest to the chest and ribs. It is normal to feel a firm ridge in the lower curve of each breast, but you should tell your doctor if you feel anything else out of the ordinary. If you’re not sure how hard to press, talk with your doctor or nurse. Use each pressure level to feel the breast tissue before moving on to the next spot.
Move around the breast in an up and down pattern, starting at an imaginary line drawn straight down your side from the underarm. Move across the breast to the middle of the chest bone (sternum or breastbone). Be sure to check the entire breast area going down until you feel only ribs, and up to the neck or collar bone (clavicle).
There is some evidence to suggest that the up-and-down pattern (sometimes called the vertical pattern) is the most effective pattern for covering the entire breast without missing any breast tissue.
Repeat the exam on your left breast, putting your left arm behind your head and using the finger pads of your right hand to do the exam.
Next, while standing in front of a mirror with your hands pressing firmly down on your hips, look at your breasts for any changes of size, shape, contour, or for dimpling, redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin. By pressing down on your hips, you contract the chest wall muscles, which enhances any breast changes.
Examine each underarm while sitting up or standing and with your arm only slightly raised, so you can easily feel this area. Raising your arm straight up tightens the tissue in this area and makes it harder to examine.
See the diagram below for a step-by-step guide to examining your breasts.
Get the all-clear from a professional – visit Marie Stopes for a Well Woman check-up
Marie Stopes offers Well Woman check-ups that focus on your unique healthcare needs as a woman. At the appointment, you can ask any questions or discuss any concerns you may have, and you’ll be given a complete physical check-up to make sure you’re healthy. The appointment doesn’t have to be long or expensive, and it’s completely confidential.