One in eight women will get breast cancer during their lifetime. That’s why prevention is so important – and it takes less than three minutes to check your breasts.
Many women do not know how often they should check their breasts, nor how to do it, so we want to explain the process step-by-step and show how fast and easy it is.
Prevention is key
Checking your breasts allows you to detect any abnormality and increases chances of a successful treatment.
You, better than anyone, know your breasts and can notice any change. That’s why it’s so important to check your breasts once per month coinciding with the end of your period.
The NHS breast screening program produced a 5-point plan for being breast aware:
- Know what’s normal for you
- Look at your breasts and feel them
- Know what changes to look for
- Report any changes without delay
- Attend a routine screening if you’re 50 or over
Steps to check your breasts
As per breastcancer.org, the five steps to follow when doing a breast examination are:
Begin by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips.
Here’s what you should look for:
- Breasts that are their usual size, shape, and colour
- Breasts that are evenly shaped without visible distortion or swelling
If you see any of the following changes, bring them to your doctor’s attention:
- Dimpling, puckering, or bulging of the skin
- A nipple that has changed position or an inverted nipple (pushed inward instead of sticking out)
- Redness, soreness, rash, or swelling
Now, raise your arms and look for the same changes.
While you’re at the mirror, look for any signs of fluid coming out of one or both nipples (this could be a watery, milky, or yellow fluid or blood).
Next, feel your breasts while lying down, using your right hand to feel your left breast and then your left hand to feel your right breast. Use a firm, smooth touch with the first few finger pads of your hand, keeping the fingers flat and together. Use a circular motion, about the size of a quarter.
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. Be sure to feel all the tissue from the front to the back of your breasts: for the skin and tissue just beneath, use light pressure; use medium pressure for tissue in the middle of your breasts; use firm pressure for the deep tissue in the back. When you’ve reached the deep tissue, you should be able to feel down to your ribcage.
Finally, feel your breasts while you are standing or sitting. Many women find that the easiest way to feel their breasts is when their skin is wet and slippery, so they like to do this step in the shower. Cover your entire breast, using the same hand movements described in step 4.
When should you contact your doctor?
If you notice any of the following symptoms, it is recommended to contact your doctor:
- A hard lump or knot near your underarm
- Changes in the way your breasts look or feel
- Dimples, puckers, bulges or ridges on the skin of your breast
- A recent change in a nipple to become pushed in (inverted) instead of sticking out
- Redness, warmth, swelling or pain
- Itching, scales, sores or rashes
- Bloody nipple discharge