In the US, breast cancer death rates are higher than those for any other cancer, besides lung cancer. In 2011, an estimated 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S and about 39,520 women were expected to die from it. Death rates, though, have been decreasing since 1990 as a result of treatment advances, earlier detection through screening, and increased awareness.
Simple steps of breast examination could make a lot of difference. Almost 70% of all breast cancers are found through self-exams and with early detection the 5-year survival rate is 98%. Too embarrassed to go to your doctor? You can actually conduct your own breast examination. Here are some simple steps:
In front of the mirror
- Face the mirror with your arms at your sides and examine your breasts. Check any visible signs of changes such as redness, rashes or any discoloration.
- Fingers flat, move gently over every part of your breast. Watch out for any changes in appearance like lumps, dimples, hard knots, thickening, puckering or bulging of the skin, or even changes in your nipples and areolas.
- Look up toward your armpits and note if there is any swelling where your lymph nodes are (lower armpit area).
- Repeat the procedure with your arms raised over your head.
- Now, with your hands on your hips and with your chest muscles tensed, examine each breast again.
- Finally, gently squeeze each nipple and check for discharge. This could be a watery, milky, yellowish fluid or blood.
- Put one hand behind your head.
- Soap your other hand, press it firmly against your breast with your fingers held flat.
- This is best done in the shower, as wet skin will have the least resistance to the friction of your fingers
- Make small circles from your nipple outwards feeling your entire breast and underarm area for lumps.
- Stroke from the top to the bottom of the breast, moving across from the inside of the breast all the way into your armpit area. You can also use a circular motion, being sure to cover the entire breast area. Take note of any changes in texture, color, or size.
- Then raise your other arm and examine your other breast.
While lying down
- Lie on your back in a comfortable position.
- Place a pillow under your left shoulder and put your left arm behind your head.
- With the fingers of your right hand flat, press your left breast gently in small circular motions, moving vertically or in a circular pattern covering the entire breast.
- Use light, medium, and firm pressure.
- Cover the entire breast from top to bottom, side to side — from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen, and from your armpit to your cleavage.
- Follow a pattern to be sure that you cover the whole breast. You can begin at the nipple, moving in larger and larger circles until you reach the outer edge of the breast. You can also move your fingers up and down vertically, in rows, as if you were mowing a lawn. This up-and-down approach seems to work best for most women.
- Now move the pillow under your right shoulder and examine your right breast.
The best time to do a breast exam is from seven – ten days after the start of your menstrual cycle, when your breasts are less tender. Post-menopausal women should do the self-exam on the same day of the month. Mother who breast feed should do the breast exam after nursing.
Even before you begin, remember that if you do find a change, the chances of the change indicating cancer are small. The important thing is to contact your doctor and have your breasts examined as soon as possible.