October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Through education, early detection and support services, Marie Stopes South Africa aims to help those affected by breast cancer.
In our endeavour to provide essential awareness about breast cancer, here is a five-step guide explaining how you can perform a breast self-exam to check for symptoms of breast cancer.
Step 1: Begin by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips.
You should be checking that:
- Your breasts are evenly shaped without visible distortion or swelling.
- Your breasts are their usual size, shape, and colour.
- If you see any of the following changes, bring them to your doctor’s attention:
- Dimpling, puckering, or bulging of the skin
- A nipple that has changed position or an inverted nipple (pushed inward instead of sticking out)
Step 2: Now, raise your arms and look for the same changes.
Step 3: While you’re at the mirror, look for any signs of fluid coming out of one or both nipples (this could be a watery, milky, or yellow fluid or blood).
Step 4: Next, while lying down, feel your breasts:
- Use your right hand to feel your left breast and then your left hand to feel your right breast.
- Use a firm, smooth touch with the first few finger pads of your hand, keeping the fingers flat and together.
- Use a circular motion approximately the size of a R2 coin.
- Cover the entire breast from top to bottom, side to side — from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen, and from your armpit to your cleavage.
Follow a pattern to ensure that you cover the whole breast.
- You can begin at the nipple, moving in larger and larger circles until you reach the outer edge of the breast.
- You can also move your fingers up and down vertically, in rows. This up-and-down approach seems to work best for most women.
Be sure to feel all the tissue from the front to the back of your breasts:
For the skin and tissue just beneath, use light pressure;
- Use medium pressure for tissue in the middle of your breasts
- Use firm pressure for the deep tissue in the back. Once you’ve reached the deep tissue, you should be able to feel down to your ribcage.
Step 5: Finally, feel your breasts while you are sitting or standing. A lot of women find that the easiest way to feel their breasts is when their skin is wet and slippery, so they like to do this step in the shower. Once again, cover your entire breast and use the same hand movements described in step 4.