Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK with over 55,000 women diagnosed every year, that is the equivalent of one person every 10 minutes.
There are nearly 12,000 deaths a year due to breast cancer and although these figures are shocking, they are dropping. Thanks to increased awareness and major developments in medicine women are surviving breast cancer at a much higher rate.
Breast cancer can occur at any stage of a woman’s life, so it is vital to check your breasts regularly to firstly become familiar with what’s normal for you and secondly to easily detect any abnormalities. As with all cancers, the quicker breast cancer is detected the easier it is to treat and the quicker you can get on with your life.
There is not one set of ‘normal’ breasts, everyone is different and over time the individual’s breasts will change. This may be due to pregnancy, weight gain/loss and even menopause. You should always be aware of any changes to your breasts, including;
- changes in the shape of your breast
- discomfort or pain
- changes to your nipples
When should you check your breasts?
You only need to give yourself a breast examination once every month or so, but you need get to know your breasts and understand what is normal for you.
What are you looking for?
There are a lot of signs which many don’t know about which can be a sign of breast cancer, they include;
- Dimpling, puckering, or bulging of the skin
- Redness, soreness, rash, or swelling
- A nipple that has changed position
- An inverted nipple (pushed inward instead of sticking out)
- Clear or bloody fluid leaking from the nipple
In your monthly checks you need to be checking for any abnormal lumps & bumps, if you discover any of the above or a combination you need to get in touch with your GP so they can give you a thorough examination.
How to check your breasts?
Many women are often unsure about what to do as well as what to look or feel for when checking doing a self-examination so here’s a step-by-step guide on self examination.
Step 1 – Look
Look at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips.
You should see
- Breasts that are their normal size, shape and colour
- Breasts that are evenly shaped without visible distortion or swelling
Step 2 – Raise your arms
Again, you’re looking for the same abnormalities as step one but this time raise your arms so you can see underneath.
Step 3 – Lean forward
Lean forward in front of the mirror so you get a pendulum effect, look out for any bulging of the skin, dimpling or puckering.
Step 4 – Fluids
This is something you can always check for, place your thumb and forefinger on the tissue surrounding the nipple and pull outward toward the end of the nipple. If you notice any discharge be it watery, milky, yellow or even bloody you should make an appointment with your GP as soon as possible.
Step 5 – Lie down
Feel your breasts when you’re lying down, this again will highlight any abnormal lumps and bumps you have.
Ensure you get a feel of all the breast tissue, rub in circular motions and you’ll be able to get a feel of the entire breast.
How much pressure should I use when examining?
Use light pressure for the skin and tissue beneath the breast, for tissue in the middle of the breast use medium pressure and for the deep tissue in the back, use firm pressure.
When you’re applying firm pressure to the deep tissue you should be able to feel your ribcage.
In the shower
Many women find examining their breast easier when they’re wet and slippery such as in the shower or bath. Give yourself a thorough examination and follow the steps above.
What happens if I do find a lump?
The first thing to remember is not to panic! Anything lumps and bumps you do find are usually harmless, breasts are naturally bumpy and all feel different. However, if you are concerned, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. You are able to request a female doctor if that would make you feel more comfortable.