What is breast self-examination?
Self-examination is one of the basic, most important elements in early breast cancer detection. At-home examination consists of two stages: thorough observation and palpation. The first step of observation allows to create an own breast map and thus to know the breast better. This allows for early detection of alarming symptoms. The second stage involves detection of thickening or a hardening of the breasts. Early diagnosis offers high chance for complete recovery and modern therapies and surgical methods often help in avoiding mastectomy (surgical breast removal). Thus the importance of self-examination and such tests as breast ultrasound, mammography or MRI.
When and how often should the examination be performed?
Breast self-examination should be performed regularly once in a month. The examination should be performed during the first stage of the menstrual cycle, preferably between day 5 and 10, or in the interval between tablets for women taking contraceptives. At this time, the breasts are soft and painless. Postmenopausal women should perform the examination at similar time intervals, e.g. on the first weekend of the month. The examination should be performed at home, preferably at a warm, calm place, where a woman can have privacy. Self-examination may also serve as an excellent opportunity to take a moment and calm down to focus on oneself and one’s health.
How to perform breast examination at home
Breast observation – you should start the breast examination with observation. Stand in front of a mirror, in a well-lit room and look closely at your breasts. Bend over and place your hands on your hips to look at the breasts. Then raise your arms above your head and continue the observation. Check for symptoms such as breast asymmetry, skin puckering or redness, nipple inversion, discharge from the nipples or soreness in nipples. Self-examination of breasts requires some “sliding” and therefore it is recommended to use lotion or oil to moisturize the skin.
Breast palpation should be performed in two positions: standing and lying down. As the breast shape changes with the body position, it is often seen that lumps are palpable only in one position.
Breast examination while lying down – to begin the examination lie on your back in a comfortable position and place your right hand behind your head. This position enables to place the breast in a more convenient position to facilitate palpation. Women with large breasts should place a pillow under their left shoulder. Now start the examination of your right breast. With three middle fingers of your hand, press down and move in circular motions around the breast. The examination should be thorough and cover every part of the breast. Check the armpits and then supraclavicular fossa for any lumps or enlarged lymph nodes. When you finish, repeat the same above-described procedure for your left breast.
Self-examination is one of the element of early breast cancer detection. You should remember about prophylactic recommendations for individual age groups. The habit of regular breast examination increases the chance for detecting a potential change at the earliest stage of the disease.