Breast cancer is a devastating diagnosis that can cause a lot of pain, anguish, and turmoil in one’s life. Early detection has been proven to be one of the best ways to ensure things do not get to this point. If you have any concerns, you should get a doctor to examine you. The best case is that there is nothing to worry about, and the worst case is that there is, and you catch it early enough to allow for medical intervention.
The Breast Self-exam
The breast self-exam takes about five minutes and can be completed in the morning or just before you go to bed. The exam aims to make you intimately familiar with your breasts so you can notice if something has changed. The process involves touching and looking for changes. The exam should be done at least once a month, a few days after the end of your period.
You should use the tips of your fingers as well as shower gel and massage oil to make things easier. You should also raise your arm over your head and hold the back of your head to get as much space for the exam as possible.
Next, you should massage the breast, looking for anything that feels out of place. Some motions you can use include massaging up and down as well as circular motions. What you are looking for are lumps or muscles that feel “odd” inside the breast tissue.
Once you are done with this examination, you should stand in front of a mirror and visually check the breasts. Here, you should be looking for lumps on the skin, changes to its texture and color, as well as deformation of the nipple or a shift in its position.
Do note that the check using the fingers as well as the visual inspection can be done in any order but should be completed at the same time.
Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer
When doing the exam, you are looking for changes in your breasts. But what do these changes look like? First, the inflammation of the breast tissue and cells caused by breast cancer can lead to the skin appearing and feeling dry, sunburnt, or scaly. The skin can also be wrinkled or feel hardened on some parts of the breast. These signs do not definitively indicate breast cancer, but you should get checked out if you find them.
Lumps and Swelling
Lumps in the breasts, armpit, and upper chest should always be taken very seriously, especially in women who have a family history of cancer or who are over 40 – although they can be found in women who are as young as 35. Any swellings or lumps should be checked out by a professional. You can do so by booking an appointment with any of the care centers that offer cancer care services. These cancer care centers will give you access to oncologists and surgeons so you can all create a plan of action. You can find tailored cancer care services on the Circle Health Group website, which provides a comprehensive list of the best cancer private hospitals in the UK and the best cancer specialists should you be diagnosed. You can also find the support and care you will need in the future through the same platform.
Apart from lumps and swelling in the breast itself, you should also be acutely aware of any swelling of the lymph nodes. Swelling of the lymph nodes is caused by the presence of pathogens such as bacteria and viruses, or harmful cells such as cancer cells. If any of these cells travel to the lymph nodes, they cause the nodes to swell, and you can notice this swelling if it is pronounced.
Changes to the Nipples
The other sign is nipple discharge. As with changes to the skin feel and look, nipple discharge can be caused by several things, including certain medications, an infection, or an unrelated medical condition. The discharge can be clear, milky, or have some color. Regardless, you should have it checked out to rule out cancer. In any case, the doctor will also check the underlying cause of the discharge.
Breast cancer affects the cells found behind your nipples. Because of this, the nipple “inverts”, meaning it turns inwards. This inversion can change the shape and size of the breast and is something to keep an eye on.
Another sign you might notice on the nipples is crusting or rashes. Granted, crusting and rashes are very common in breastfeeding mums, whether they are tied to mastitis, or could be a sign of infection. However, if you are not breastfeeding and have no other symptoms of an infection, do see your doctor.
A breast self-exam is an important part of breast cancer screening at home. Every woman should learn how to do it and make it routine, so they can tell as soon as something looks or feels off.