Breast Cancer Self-Examination
Return to Main Guide:
|Why Examine My Breasts Regularly?
A breast self examination (BSE) (image) is a regular inspection which women carry out to check for any abnormalities which may indicate breast cancer. Doctors generally agree that women should self exam every month as an early breast cancer diagnosis can improve cure and breast cancer survival rates. That said, long-term studies from Russia and China show no difference in either the death rates or stage of breast cancers discovered in women who perform careful breast examinations than those who do not. On an individual basis however, if a woman is found to have a malignant lump, early detection and treatment does increase her chance of cure or at least remission. It is important not to rely on an annual mammogram alone because early tumors may not show up on a mammogram. All women over 20 should consider carrying out regular BSE's procedures, including those who are pregnant, breast-feeding and postmenopause (as well as those who have had breast implants). Women with breast cancer risk factors should be extra vigilant.
If you are still having monthly bleeds the best time to carry out a BSE is immediately after one menstrual cycle has finished (when a period is over). The breasts tend to be less lumpy and sensitive at this time. Women who are not menstruating because of pregnancy, menopause or hysterectomy should just pick a day of the month (any day) and repeat it every month. If you don’t manage to carry out an exam regularly, don’t worry - an occasional test is still better than none. See breast cancer prevention for more tips.
Some women find it helpful to ask a doctor or nurse to demonstrate how to do a BSE, while others prefer to watch a demonstration on YouTube. Also, some women find it useful to draw a map of their breasts, noting on the sketch the position of any lumps, tenderness, and skin thickening. This can be referred to the following month for tracking any potential issues. There are 3 common ‘search patterns’ or techniques for breast tests: the vertical pattern, concentric rings and the ‘clock’ pattern. Some women find they become more familiar with their breasts if they use the same search pattern every month. In this article we explain the concentric ring pattern.
Step 1: Hands on Hip
Start by looking in the mirror, your shoulders straight and your arms on your hip. Take a look at your breasts. Take a note of the appearance of the breasts and if there has been any change since the last BSE. Do you notice:
1. Change in size of either breast or in the shape and color?
Step 2: Raise Arms
Raise your arms above the head, this will help reveal any changes in the contour of the breasts. Placing on the hands on the hips with the shoulders forward will reveal any problem dimpling.
Step 3: Examining Breasts in More Detail
1. The next part of the exam can be performed either lying down a bed or in a shower. Lathering soap over the breasts will help your fingers glide more smoothly. When examining the breasts use the pads of your fingers, not the finger tips and use the 3 middle fingers. Apply enough pressure that you can feel through your skin but not enough so that you feel your ribs. Take your time. It can take up to 5-10 minutes to thoroughly exam the breasts.
Many women find lumps in their breasts, and in 9 out of 10 cases these turn out to be cysts or changes that occur as part of a regular menstrual cycle - they do not turn out to be breast cancer symptoms. Finding a lump is not a reason to panic. If in doubt contact your doctor. But always contact your doctor if you notice:
1. A rock-hard breast lump near your underarm.
|Related Articles on Breast Cancer
To learn more about the disease, see the following:
Back to Homepage: Womens Health Advice