October is celebrated as breast cancer awareness month. Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world with an alarming mortality rate. It is more common in women than in men. Since its discovery, the diagnosis and treatment techniques for breast cancer have developed exponentially. This has helped people in getting early diagnosis (which, ironically, contributes to the higher number of cases) and get successful treatments. Better understanding of breast cancer has proved to be instrumental in saving many lives.
There are many risk factors for breast cancer — being a woman, increasing age, having a family medical history of breast cancer, exposure to radiation as well as genetic mutations. These risk factors are not under our control. So how can we protect ourselves from developing this condition?
A silver lining of breast cancer is that early diagnosis of this disease has an excellent survival rate. But for early diagnosis, it is imperative that women and men understand the symptoms and are aware about them. While visiting a doctor for annual breast examinations is always a viable and smart choice, one thing that more people need to include in their lifestyle is breast self examination (BSE).
BSE is a simple technique that allows and encourages women to get familiar with their breasts. It takes very little time of their day and might just help them notice any unusual changes in their breasts. BSE should be done monthly, just after a woman’s period ends.
The primary aim of BSE is to observe your breasts and feel them for any unusual symptoms such as lumps, discharge, redness or pain. It is easy to learn and takes just a few minutes. Here are the steps for BSE:
Step 1: Stand in front of the mirror.
- Keep your arms on your hips. Check the color, shape and size of your breasts.
- Look out for: Puckering of the breast skin, inverted nipple, redness and/or swelling. If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s best to consult a doctor.
Step 2: Now raise your arms above your head and observe your breasts again.
Step 3: Make note of any discharge or fluid coming out of your nipples.
Step 4: Lie down on your back.
- Use your left hand to feel your right breast and vice versa. Tuck the other hand under your head while checking.
- Use a firm but gentle touch. Check the breasts using the pads of your fingers — index, middle and ring — and not just the fingertips.
- Try to cover the entire breast. You can use two different motions to do so —
- Circular — Moving your fingers in circles around the nipples, widening the radius with every round.
- Vertical — Moving your fingers up and down the entire region of your breasts gently. Adjust the pressure as you move your fingers to feel the breast tissues.
- Make sure to check from your armpit to your cleavage as well as from your collar bone to the top of your abdomen.
Step 5: Check yourself in the shower using the same steps mentioned above. Many women find it easier to examine their breasts when they are wet and slippery.
With BSE, women should try to know their breasts and how they feel normally. They can even journal their examinations so as to keep a track. It should become a part of their routine.
What happens if we do find any symptom? Well, the first thing to remember is not to panic! Schedule an appointment with your doctor and let them check again using better techniques. Many times, small lumps are just that — lumps. Our responsibility is to observe, note and report any changes that we feel.
Try to include these simple steps of BSE in your routine and make it a point to teach them to your fellow female friends as well. In case you need a pictorial representation of the steps, check out this video below!
1. Breast Self-Exam. Available at: https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/testing/types/self_exam. Accessed on 15 October 2020.
2. Breast Cancer. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/breast-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20352470. Accessed on 15 October 2020.