All adult women should perform monthly self-breast examinations, as 40% of diagnosed breast cancers are first detected by a woman who notices an abnormality on her breasts. These abnormalities include sudden nipple discharge, constant pain in one spot of the breast, pulling in of the nipple or a rash on the nipple, skin puckering, change in overall shape or size of the breast, swelling, reddening or darkening, and perhaps the most common abnormality – a lump inside the breast or underarm area. Women need to keep in mind that tumors not only appear in the breast. Tumors may also appear in the collarbone and armpit area, most notably the armpit area as it is rich in lymph nodes. These signs are not always indicative of breast cancer, but it is always best to speak to a physician after encountering any of these symptoms.
In order to feel lumps in the breast, it is imperative to use the pads of your fingers and knead the entire breast in a circular motion from the outside to the center of your breast. Any signs of a lump, knot, or general thickening should be checked by a doctor. Take your time when checking for lumps – as some women have thick breast tissue, lumps may be difficult to notice. This should be done lying down and with one arm extended above your head to enable the breast tissue to spread out evenly along the chest wall. To check for differences in appearance, stand in front of a mirror and inspect your breasts first with your arms by your sides, then with your arms raised overhead. Visit our Self Breast Exam page and download your free PDF to keep on hand.
Women with breast implants need to take special precautions when performing self-examinations. Women should feel around their breast and identify the implant, and then press firmly inwards at the edge of the implant to feel the ribs underneath and check for lumps. It is important not to squeeze the valve of the implant when feeling for lumps, as the implant may deflate and leak. It is thought that saline implants will leak into your body without causing any health risk, yet surgery will be needed to remove the implant shell. A ruptured silicone implant may cause breast pain and a change in the contour or shape of the breast, and the implant will need to be removed.
Every woman should be encouraged to perform these monthly self-exams – they are quick and convenient in that anyone can do them in the comfort of their own home. It does not take a lot to check your breasts, but doing so may save your life, as early detection is of the utmost importance in treating breast cancer. So go out and spread the word!