“Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.” — Christopher Reeve
Self-assessment of breast cancer or, Breast-self exam or BSE can be done regularly at home. It is considered to be an important technique to detect breast cancer in the earlier stages. Since there is no test which can help in the early detection of breast cancer, a breast self-examination along with other screening tests help to increase the chances of early detection.
BSE is not only important but also an essential screening tool, especially when it is done in sync with regular health checkups like mammography, MRI, ultrasound, and physical examinations. These screening methods have their own weaknesses and strengths. However, BSE can be performed easily at home, is a no-cost tool and is convenient.
Here are five easy steps to follow for BSE:
Step 1: Keep calm!
Stand in front of the mirror so that you can see your breasts clearly. Make sure that your hands are on your hips and shoulders straight. If you are not comfortable in this posture then you can even place your hands behind your head.
While performing this step you must look for the usual shape, size and colour of the breasts. Also, look out for any swelling or distortions.
Make sure you see a doctor if you notice:
- Any bulge, dimpling or puckering in the skin
- Swelling, soreness, redness or rash on the breast
- A slight change in the nipple, like maybe pushed inward instead of sticking out
Step 2: Raise your arms and look for any changes like the colour, shape and size of breasts. Look out for any signs of fluid discharge from the nipples. If you find anything abnormal you can make a note of the same and seek guidance from a doctor.
Step 3: Apply pressure on the breast for a proper assessment. As per the American Cancer Society, the pressure needed for an appropriate examination should be applied at three different levels. The levels are:
- Light: For examining the tissues which are closest to the skin
- Medium: This pressure allows to let you go deeper
- Heavy or Firm: This pressure allows to feel the tissues deeper which are closer to the chest
Step 4: Once the basic assessment is done, lie down and go for a thorough check. By lying down the breast tissues spread all over the chest. This allows you to feel your breast in a circular motion with a smooth and firm touch. A steady pattern should be followed and make sure to cover the whole breast. An easy way to go about is by beginning from the nipples and moving towards the outside of the breast. Make sure to follow a circular pattern with your fingers palpating up and down in rows. While performing this step make sure that all the tissues from back to front, cleavage to the armpit, and collarbone to the top of the abdomen are assessed thoroughly. Apply different levels of pressures at different parts and body structures.
Step 5: Now feel your breasts while sitting or standing. You can also do it in the shower as it is believed that some women find it easy to feel their breast when wet. Make sure that a circular motion is used and the whole breast is assessed.
Did you find a lump or any other abnormality? If no, then very good. If yes, then don’t panic. Here is what you need to do in such a situation:
If you think you felt a lump in your breast: It is a known fact that most women have some lumps in their breast. However, these may turn out to be benign. These non-cancerous lumps may be due to an injury, or some hormonal changes or simply just another benign condition.
In case you notice any changes in the breast or a lump do not hesitate to seek help: If you find any abnormal change, that has lasted for more than a month or is getting prominent is your cue to get in touch with the doctor.
What to expect at the doctor: Your doctor will do a physical examination of the lump. If suspicious, then you would most likely be asked to get an ultrasound done. Ultrasound is done for women who are less than 30 years, pregnant or breastfeeding. Mammograms are preferred for ladies who are above 35 years, not pregnant and breastfeeding. If the doctor requires more tests then, MRI or a biopsy may be recommended.
Get answers to all your queries: Make sure that you get all the answers and an apt explanation behind the breast changes or a lump. Take a detailed note of the treatment plan. Do not hesitate for a second opinion if you are not satisfied with your doctor.
How BSE can become a part of your Daily Life
Its time to make a routine: It is totally fine to examine your breasts. Do not shy away from doing so, they are your body part and the more you assess your breast, you will learn more and find it easier to spot any change. Make it a habit to examine your breasts at least once a month.
Get to know your breasts surroundings: It is a good idea to know who is your breasts neighbour. Most lumps can be found in the upper and outer area near the armpit. In contrast, the lower half of the breast feels pebbly and sandy, while, the area under nipples gives an impression of large grains. So all the parts have a different texture.
Maintain a record of your BSE findings: Maintaining a record of your BSE can help you know about even the slightest change in your breast. Initially, it helps you to know what is normal and what is not. Some lumps may appear due to an injury, hormonal changes or body changes while menstruation. Journalling about these changes will help you track any irregularities.
Here is an overview of how you can perform breast self-examination:
Do you have a personal story about breast cancer to share? Let me know I would be happy to share your story. #BreastCancer
Also Read: October is Breast Awareness Month