Breast self-examination: Learn how to do it correctly

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Breast self-examination: Learn how to do it correctly
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Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers among women globally. From being the fourth on the list of most common cancers in India during the 1990s, it has now become the first, as per the National Library of Medicine. While cancers — which can be caused due to various reasons like alcohol consumption, smoking, and certain lifestyle habits — cannot be completely prevented, timely diagnosis may increase the survival rate among cancer patients.

“A lack of awareness about breast cancer and failure to detect it at the earliest is one of the reasons for high mortality in breast cancer patients,” said Dr Suneetha Mulinti, Senior Consultant Radiation Oncologist, American Oncology Institute, Hyderabad, adding that self-examination is key to early detection.

What is breast self-examination?

A self-breast examination is an inspection of breasts that women can easily do on their own at home. “While many women tend to ignore or overlook the fact, a self-breast examination is important for the early detection of breast cancer,” Dr Suneetha stressed.

As per the expert, it is especially favoured in unchartered or rural areas where mammography and regular physical examination of the breasts is either not possible or not that common. “That said, the effectiveness of mammography cannot be ruled out as it detects breast tumours even before they can be felt, which improves the chances of survival,” she told indianexpress.com.

How to self-examine correctly?

As part of a self-breast check, use your eyes as well as hands to determine if there are any obvious changes in the breasts.

If you feel a hard lump or a knot, swelling, dimples, pain, sores, a discharge coming from your nipple, or any kind of change in your breasts, then you should see a doctor. (Photo: Getty/Thinkstock)

For visual examination, sit or stand naked in front of a mirror and look for puckering, dimpling, or changes in size, shape, or symmetry of your breasts. Inspect your nipples to see if they are turned in (inverted). Make sure to inspect your breasts with your hands pressed down on your hips and with your arms raised overhead. Also, lift your breasts to see if the ridges along the bottom are symmetrical.

Next, use your hands to examine your breasts. Lay down on your back on a flat surface and check if you can feel any lump. “First, while examining the breast, don’t make the mistake of skipping your underarm area and the nipple, as nearly 20 per cent of lumps are found in this area,” said Dr Suneetha. Second, refrain from using any lotion or body oil while performing a self-breast check. Both your hands as well as the skin should be dry.

Women should ideally conduct breast self-exam once a month. “They may choose a day (eg 10th day of their cycle) as there’s less chance of swelling and tenderness. However, if you no longer get periods, you may choose the same day of each month to help you remember,” she suggested.

What are the red flags?

If you feel a hard lump or a knot, swelling, dimples, pain, sores, a discharge coming from your nipple, or any kind of change in your breasts, then you should see a doctor. “However, as a cautionary note, finding a change or lump in your breast is not a reason to panic and compare the lump felt with the contralateral breast areas as most of the time it’s due to glandular breast tissue, which is normal,” she added.

“While it is advisable to see a doctor in case you feel or notice any kind of change in your breasts, a screening mammogram is not recommended for most women under 40 years of age because their breast tissue is generally denser than the breast tissue in older women. But, if you have a family history of breast cancer, you should get screened regularly starting at a very early age with an MRI of the breast,” said Dr Suneetha.

Women who are 50 to 74 years of age and are at average risk for breast cancer should get a mammogram every year. Women who are 40 to 49 years old should talk to their doctor about when to start and how often to get a mammogram.

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