Breast self-examination (BSE) is a personal responsibility that is expected of men and women older than 18 years at least once a month. It is of more importance with women who have more developed mammary glands and history of complications.
It is a process and an inspection that everyone should undertake periodically to become self-aware of their breast. BSE is not necessarily because of Cancer, but rather you need to be able to describe the size, shape, tone, texture, and symmetry of your breasts. You should use your eyes and hands to determine if there are any changes to the look and feel of your breasts. You should be able to identify what is normal and abnormal with your breasts.
According to Johns Hopkins Medical center, “Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important.”
When you do a BSE you can early detect changes to your breast and discuss your observations with your medical practitioner who may recommend further tests and examinations for more scientific verification.
Breast self-examination will enable you to detect the following;
BSE is not the best method of detecting breast cancer, however, most women that were later diagnosed of breast cancer reported that the first sign of their breast cancer was a new breast lump they discovered on their own.
For this reason, knowing the consistency of your breast is positive for your breast care management.
When to Begin BSE?
Do your BSE when your breast is in the best normal state because the period of hormonal changes have an unstable impact on the structure of your breast and may lead to an erroneous conclusion.
So, a few days after your monthly menstrual cycle is the best time to do BSE while women who are yet to start or have stopped menstruating should select a particular date monthly to conduct breast self-examination.
Make sure that you keep a record of your observation monthly.
How Should A Breast Self-Exam Be Performed?
Your doctor can give you an additional method to the ones listed below, however, the listed methods below are generally acceptable.
Position 1: Before a Mirror
Stand topless in front of a mirror with your hands by your side, later, raise your hands up over your head, and put your hands on your hips and flex your chest to the right and left.
You may observe the following;
Changes in size, shape, tone & symmetry
Swellings or Dimpling
Breast baseline asymmetrical ridges
Position 2: Lying Down
Maintain the topless position, lie down flat and place a pillow under your right shoulder, also let your right arm also be under your head. Engage your left hand for the inspection.
Use your palms or left-hand pad (not fingers) to massage your breast area.
Later engage your fingers to apply a little pressure on the breast area in a spiral manner, starting from the nipples to the collarbone, armpit and all over, do a thorough check.
Use your best hands for this checking.
Position 3: In the Shower
The soap and water lather your body and offers a frictionless surface thereby enabling your hands to glide over gently.
Just like in the lying down method move the pads of your arm all over the breast in a spiral manner.
Check the entire breast and armpit area for any feelings of lump, thickening, or hardened knot.
Apply, varying pressure gradually and squeeze the nipples to check for discharges.
Risks of Breast self-examination
A breast self-exam is risk-free if you are not the anxious type particularly when you come across a lump-like or stone-like barrier. In fact, BSE is a proactive measure and risk mitigating approach to breast care management.
Whatever your observation is, you can talk it over with your doctor early and before any malignancy steps in the foreign obstruction can be removed or obliterated.
However, if your BSE awareness reveals the presence of a foreign body, you need to consult your doctor for further evaluation.
What next after BSE?
After your breast self-exam, you may stumble across a lump or other abnormalities, you need to calm down and not panic because this does not necessarily equal to breast cancer.
Some of these are normal changes that occur at various points in the menstrual cycles. The feelings to touch on your breasts often change and at different places and as you age your breasts will also change.
The National Breast Cancer Foundation Inc. affirms that 8 out of every 10 lumps are benign and non-cancerous.
While a health line publication that was medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan also reiterated that;
Besides cancer, lumps may be caused by;
Adenofibroma –a benign tumor of the breast tissue
Fibrocystic breast disease – painful, lumpy breasts caused by hormone changes
Intraductal papilloma – a small, benign tumor of the milk ducts
Mammary fat necrosis-lumps formed by bruised, dead, or injured fat tissues
Should you rely on Breast self-examination to be sure you are Breast cancer-free?
I personally prefer the combination of the clinical screening/procedure (Mammography) which comes less periodically when compared to the self-examination.
Screening carried out using the Mammograph come with an eagle sight and the capability to easily detect growth of tumors and lumps before BSE can feel it, hence screening process is key for early detection.
Many women find lumps or changes in their breasts since some of these are normal changes that occur at various points in the menstrual cycles. Finding a change or lump in your breast is not a reason to panic. Breasts often feel different in different places. A firm ridge along the bottom of each breast is normal, for instance. The look and feel of your breasts will change as you age.
In as much that it is recommended that you consistently carry-out a breast self-exam and keep a journal of your observations, it is not a substitute for periodic breast exam by your doctor (clinical breast exam) or a screening mammogram.
Becoming familiar with the normal look and feel of your breasts can supplement breast cancer screening, but can’t replace it.
When to contact your doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice:
A hard lump or knot near your underarm
Changes in the way your breasts look or feel, including thickening or prominent fullness that is different from the surrounding tissue
Dimples, puckers, bulges or ridges on the skin of your breast
A recent change in a nipple to become pushed in (inverted) instead of sticking out
Redness, warmth, swelling or pain
Itching, scales, sores or rashes
Bloody nipple discharge