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About 80% of breast cancers are detected because women themselves notice changes in their breasts.
By carrying out regular self-checks, you will get to know your breasts and understand what is normal for you...so you can recognise any changes promptly and take action.
There are around 55,900 new breast cancer cases in the UK every year, that’s more than 150 every day. About 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime.
Early detection is the best protection, it improves chances for successful treatment and can save lives.
Regular Breast Self-Exams (BSE) help women to feel more comfortable, develop an awareness of their breasts and recognise changes promptly, so they can take action and seek help. Being breast aware and getting into a self-checking routine doesn't happen instantly. However, with practice, dedication and self-commitment, you will develop it over time and make it a part of your routine.
Performing Breast Self-Exams in conjunction with other screening methods, e.g. clinical exams by a physician and periodic mammograms, can increase the chance to detect breast cancer early.
When you think of breast cancer, you might think of a lump, but that’s not always the first or only symptom you might discover. The symptoms do vary between different people and some do not have any symptoms at all. Getting to know all of the symptoms and changes to be aware of, will help you to quickly detect if anything is or feels unusual.
As a general rule, you should examine your breasts once a month. For women, preferably immediately after the end of your period. For women who do not have periods and for men, check yourself on the same day each month. If you have any doubts, please consult your doctor.
When checking your breasts for signs and symptoms of breast cancer, be aware of these changes:
On its own, pain in your breast is not usually a sign of breast cancer. But you should look out for pain in your breast or armpit that’s there all or almost all the time.
Although rare, men can also get breast cancer. The most common symptom of breast cancer in men is a lump in the chest area.
Studies reveal that only 20-30% of women are doing monthly breast self-exams, even though statistics report that most breast irregularities are found by women themselves. Many women do not perform their breast self examination for fear of finding something. Don’t panic if you think you feel a lump in your breast, in 8 of 10 times, it is nothing to be alarmed about. Normal breast tissue is composed of firm glandular tissue and soft fatty tissue which feels lumpy and bumpy all the time. Variation in the lumpiness is directly affected by the menstrual cycle.
Step 1 - Begin your breast-self exam while standing in front of a well-lighted mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips. Look at your breasts and compare them.
Then place your palms on your hips and press down firmly, flexing your chest muscles. Check again for any changes.
Step 2 - Raise your arms and look for the same changes. Do your breasts follow the movement?
Check yourself from the front and from the sides. Do you see retractions or bulges?
Step 3 - Gently squeeze the nipples between the thumb and index finger and 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 - Feel your breasts while lying on your back. Place a pillow under your left shoulder or your left arm under your head. It will help to spread the breast tissue over your chest wall.
Begin with a barehanded examination: Use your right hand to feel your left 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. Examine every part of your breast and armpit, feeling for a lump or hardness. Follow a pattern, e.g. vertical strips, to be sure that you cover the whole breast.
Then perform both the bare-handed and Aware® Pad exam on your right breast.
Any noticeable change during either the barehanded breast exam or using the Aware® Pad, should be reported to your doctor for proper evaluation.
“Most women's breasts have lumps and bumps in them, and it is important for a women to do self-breast exams, so that she knows where her normal lumps and bumps are. So that if there is ever a new lump, she will be the first one to find it and seek a doctor's attention.”
Benjamin Goldman, M.D., North Shore University Hospital
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