With more and more awareness among women with regards to breast cancer, it becomes important for one to learn to perform a breast self-examination (BSE), especially if you are over 20 years old. This article will help you understand the procedure in an apt manner.
Though breast self-examination is known to have no contribution in terms of reducing the number of deaths due to breast cancer, it is still an optional way to become more familiar with your breasts so that you can easily identify any significant changes that are likely to take place within. Breast self-examination helps a woman to understand her breasts thoroughly so that even the slight changes in the pattern can be identified.
A breast self examination usually focuses on being able to feel thick lumps, unusual changes in the appearance of the breasts, thickening of the surface, discharge from the nipples and unusual dimpling, puckering and changes in the texture and color of the breasts. The point to be noted is that breast self-examination can also lead to unnecessary panic if some lumps are felt, however, it could be due to hormonal changes as well, therefore feeling small lumps doesn’t necessarily mean that you have breast cancer. Which is why it is advisable for women to conduct a BSE a few days after their menstrual cycle ends. For women who don’t menstruate, you can select a specific day and conduct BSE on the same day every month.
Methods to Perform a Breast Self-Examination
Statistics reveal that most of the cancerous tumors (41%) are found in the upper outer quadrant of the breast. For better understanding, you can divide your breast into 4 parts. Next comes the area behind the nipple where 34% of the cancerous tumors are found. 14% of them are found in the upper inner quadrant, followed by 6% of the cases wherein the tumors are found in the outer quadrant, and finally, the lower inner quadrant accounts for 5%. Which is why you must use techniques to be able to thoroughly examine each and every section of your breast along with the area of your armpit and upper chest. All these sections can be thoroughly examined with the help of the following techniques.
BSE in Front of the Mirror
Breast-self examination involves both visual and manual examination of your breasts. BSE in front of the mirror covers most of the visual examination part of the evaluation. Here is what you need to do.
- Stand in front of the mirror without any clothes on the upper body. Make sure you can clearly look at your breasts in the mirror, if not, adjust the mirror and your position accordingly.
- Just relax both your arms on the sides and observe both your breasts carefully. It’s OK if they are not of the same size. It is very common in most women.
- Try to observe the changes in your breasts in terms of the shape, size, changes in the texture of the skin, puckering, discoloration, sores or dimpling, both on the breast skin and the nipples.
- The next step would be to place both your hands over your hips. This position tends to contract the muscles of the chest wall, thereby enhancing the changes in the breast more visibly.
- Again, check for changes like dimpling, puckering, scaling or discoloration. Any kind of change observed should be noted down.
- Stand sideways to examine the outer area of both your breasts and again, look for changes.
- The next thing to do is to bend forward towards the mirror, simultaneously rolling your elbows and shoulders forward. Now look for changes in contours and shape of your breasts. Also bend forward standing sideways to examine the outer portion of both your breasts.
- Lift up your arm slightly and examine the area of your underarm. Press firmly to feel any lumps or clots.
BSE While Lying Flat
Another, and the most effective approach to observe the changes in the breasts along with certain abnormalities is breast self-examination while lying down. When you lie down, the tissues of your breasts tend to evenly spread on your chest which makes it much easier to feel and thoroughly examine the breasts. Here is what you need to do.
- Without wearing anything on your upper body, lie down on a flat surface, placing a pillow under your right side.
- Place your right arm behind your head and use the fingers of your left hand to examine the right breast.
- Use the finger pads of your second, third and fourth finger to feel the lumps of your right breast.
- You need to rotate your finger pads in small circular motion to feel the tissues of the breast. Use light pressure to feel the tissues of the breasts that are closest to the skin, average pressure to feel the tissues a little deeper, and firm pressure to feel the tissues closest to the chest.
- Use the vertical or up and down pattern to examine each and every section of the breast. You can also draw imaginary lines and divide your breast into sections similar to that of a clock, and clockwise examine each and every wedge in a vertical motion. Many experts also suggest doing it in a circular motion, always being in constant touch with your breasts, without losing contact.
- After examining each and every section of the breast, the next step would be to check the nipples. Squeeze them gently and check if there is any discharge. Feel the area under the nipple and look for changes.
- Repeat the same steps for the left breast with the finger pads of your right hand.
If you are unsure about the amount of pressure you should apply, or if you feel some unusual lumps in the breast, consult a doctor or a nurse immediately to resolve your queries.
BSE While Taking a Shower
It becomes easier to conduct a breast self-examination while taking a shower as your fingers and breasts are soapy and wet, the wetness makes the movements more easy. The purpose remains the same, the only difference is that you are examining your breasts under a shower. Here is what you need to do.
- First you need to raise up your right arm, preferably, keep your right arm behind your head.
- Use the second, third and fourth fingers of your left hand to feel your right breast.
- You can either go for small circular movements or use the vertical pattern to examine each and every section of your breast by dividing it into sections similar to the wedges of a clock.
- Look for the changes that have already been mentioned before.
- Repeat the same procedure for the left breast.
Some women may find feeling their breasts a little awkward, however, it is necessary to keep a close observation on them in order to identify the changes that may actually be an early sign of breast cancer. If you are not sure about the changes that you feel, you can also ask your partner, or a close friend, or a relative to help you do this procedure. Speaking to your healthcare specialist for any doubts is advisable, and of course, you can also visit a healthcare specialist to perform the examination on you to be absolutely sure.