Breast cancer awareness is the need of the hour. The incidence of breast cancer in India is increasing at an alarming rate compared to western countries. This makes breast self-examination necessary. If you don’t know how to do a breast self-examination, we have a step-by-step guide to do it.
What is Breast Self-Examination?
A breast self-examination for breast awareness is an examination of your breasts that you do on your own. To help increase your breast awareness, you use your eyes and hands to determine if there are any changes in how your breasts look or feel.
If you notice any new breast changes, discuss them with your doctor. While most breast changes found during a breast awareness self-exam are benign, some changes may indicate something more serious, such as breast cancer.
Most medical organizations do not recommend routine breast self-exams for breast cancer screening. Breast self-exams are ineffective in detecting cancer or improving survival for women with breast cancer.
However, doctors believe it is valuable for women to become familiar with their breasts to understand what is expected and report changes promptly.
This is a way to check your breasts for changes such as lumps or thickening. You will see and feel both breasts. If you notice anything unusual, tell your doctor right away. In many cases, these changes are not cancerous, but you should see your doctor find out.
Who Should Perform Breast Self-Exams?
Doctors may recommend monthly self-exams starting at age 20 for people with a family history of breast cancer. You can continue for the rest of your life, including during menopause and pregnancy.
Anyone with breast tissue can get breast cancer, although cisgender people (those whose gender identity matches the gender they were born with) are 100 times more likely to develop it in women than in men.
Breast cancer can also affect:
Transgender men: Doctors recommend getting an annual mammogram after age 40 unless you’ve had a mastectomy to remove breast tissue. Between screenings, you can do a breast or chest self-examination. Best of all, if you’ve had surgery or hormone therapy, self-examinations can help you learn what your “new normal” looks and feels like so you can be aware of any changes.
Transgender women: Using hormone therapy with estrogen or progestin for five or more years increases your risk of breast cancer. In this case, doctors recommend getting a mammogram every two years after age 50. Although breast implants make mammograms more complex, they do not increase your chances of breast cancer. But breast self-examination can help you adjust to your changed body and look for changes.
Non-binary people: Non-binary people born with female reproductive organs without high-risk surgery should follow the screening guidelines for cis women. If breast tissue is removed, you may need an ultrasound or focused MRI instead of a mammogram.
Men: If you’re a cis man with a family history of breast cancer, ask your doctor if monthly self-exams make sense. Breast cancer is more common in men aged 60-70.
We spoke to Dr. Mandeep Singh Malhotra, Department of Oncology, CK Birla Hospital, Delhi, to know the need for breast cancer awareness and how to do breast self-examination.
Dr. Singh says, “Breast self-examination makes you aware of any new changes in the breast to detect breast cancer at an early stage. It is an important screening tool combined with regular physical examinations and routine mammograms by doctors to see early signs of breast cancer. It is a convenient and inexpensive test that can be performed at any age. It helps women learn how their breasts usually look and feel by notifying the doctor immediately of any changes.
How to do a breast self-examination:
- Women should look at their breasts in front of the mirror with straight shoulders and arms close to their hips. Things to look for during a breast self-exam are changes in skin color or texture or changes in breast size, shape, and symmetry.
- The second step is to raise the arms and look for the same things mentioned in step 1. Also, look for nipple discharge.
- Women should also lie down and examine the breasts by feeling them from front to back and in a circular motion for any swelling, pain, or tenderness.
- The same examination should be repeated in a sitting position.
- If a woman sees or feels any lumps, she should not panic because most women have breast lumps, but they should not be painful. The best thing to do is to see a doctor for further evaluation.
Breast lumps and nipple discharge should be alarming. You can also understand the breast self-examination process through initial demonstrations by a doctor.
Women should choose the examination time based on their menstrual cycle. The ideal time to do this is one week after menstruation. Breast self-examination includes both visual examination and manual breast examination. By regular self-examination of the mammary glands, a woman can detect breast cancer at an early stage.