How to perform a self-exam for breast cancer
The idea of performing a self-exam for breast cancer can be intimidating, but, when it comes to cancer it’s important to take all the precautions you can. Regular self-examinations increase the likelihood of early diagnosis which can significantly aid in recovery. And whether you’re male or female, self-exams for breast cancer should become a part of your monthly routine. But what exactly does it involve?
The first thing to remember is that everyone’s breasts are different, so it’s time to get to know your breasts for yourself. Get used to getting soapy and giving them a feel when you hop in the shower. When you’re ready to give yourself a proper exam, try this technique from Breastcancer.org.
- Look in the mirror
The best way to start is to simply look at your breasts in the mirror so you can easily see them. To get the best view, aim to have your shoulders straight with your arms on your hips. What you’re looking for are changes in the size, shape or colour of your breasts. Keep a particular eye out for nipples that have changed position or are inverted inward instead of poking out; dimpled, puckered or bulging skin; and any redness, swelling, rashes or soreness.
Breast cancer can develop anywhere from below your breasts, up to your collarbone and into your armpits. For more detail on where breast tissue can be found, check out the diagram in this article. What may be surprising, though, is that cancer cells often spread from the armpit, with one in three women found to have cancer cells in their armpit when they were diagnosed. So be sure to check your armpits and chest for the same changes mentioned in step one.
- Nipple discharge
There are many reasons why someone might experience discharge from the nipples, pregnancy and breastfeeding in particular, but it can also indicate breast cancer. Any unexpected fluid, whether it be watery, milky, bloody or yellow in tone, merits a doctor’s appointment.
- Feel them lying down and upright
This next step you’ll want to complete both while lying down and either standing or sitting. The exact pattern you choose to feel your breast is up to you, as long as you’re sure to check all of your breast tissue. The most common technique is to move your fingers up and down in rows. You should use a firm, smooth touch with the tabs of your middle and forefinger, ensuring they stay flat and together. In each spot, use a circular motion to feel everything under the skin, using a progressively firmer pressure to reach the tissue at different depths until you can feel the ribcage. When upright, this movement is often easiest in the shower when your skin is wet and slippery.
What happens if you find something?
Self-exams are only the first step in finding breast cancer and, even if you do find something, there’s no need to worry until you’ve been to a doctor. When you get there, they’ll likely ask about your symptoms and how long you’ve had them (so keep notes if you can) and examine your breasts themselves. If they don’t refer you on, don’t hesitate to ask for an explanation or advice on what to do next. No matter what they say, if your symptoms continue for a week or two, change or get worse, you can go back or ask another doctor. If they do find something, they’ll refer you on to get a mammogram, breast ultrasound or MRI. If these don’t clearly show whether a lump is benign, you may need a biopsy. There are various biopsy techniques but all will be done under some form of anaesthesia and involve inserting a needle to collect a tissue sample for a pathology analysis.Due to their increased likelihood of developing breast cancer, women over the age of 40 can get a free mammogram every two years in Australia. However, no matter your gender, everyone with breast tissue should be performing self-exams on a regular basis. We hope this guide will help you become more comfortable giving yourself regular breast exams. But remember, if you find anything concerning, what you find online is only a guide and you should always go talk to a doctor for the most accurate, up-to-date advice.