Breast self-examination: How to check for early signs of breast cancer | Health - Hindustan Times
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Breast self-examination: How to check for early signs of breast cancer

ByZarafshan Shiraz, New Delhi
Jan 23, 2024 02:18 PM IST

Here's a step-by-step guide on how to perform breast self-exams at home to check for early signs of breast cancer

Performing regular breast self-exams (BSE) is a proactive way for individuals to monitor their breast health and potentially detect early signs of breast cancer. It is important to note that while self-exams can be a valuable tool, they are not a substitute for regular mammograms or clinical breast exams conducted by healthcare professionals.

Breast self-examination: How to check for early signs of breast cancer (Photo by StockPic/HT_PRINT)
Breast self-examination: How to check for early signs of breast cancer (Photo by StockPic/HT_PRINT)

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Monika Pansari, HOD and Senior Consultant Surgical Oncology (Breast and Gyneac) at Gleneagles Hospitals in Bengaluru, shared a step-by-step guide on how to perform a breast self-exam -

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1. Choose a Regular Time: Perform the self-exam at the same time each month, preferably a few days after your menstrual period ends. For postmenopausal women, choose a specific day each month.

2. Visual Inspection:

  • Stand in front of a mirror with your arms at your sides.
  • Look for changes in the size, shape, and contour of each breast.
  • Check for dimpling, puckering, or bulging of the skin.
  • Inspect the nipples for any changes, such as inversion or discharge.

3. Raise Your Arms:

  • Raise your arms overhead and look for the same changes in size, shape, and contour.
  • Observe any changes in the skin or nipple area.

4. Feel for Changes while Lying Down:

  • Lie down with a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head.
  • Use your left hand to feel the entire right breast in circular motions, moving from the outside to the centre.
  • Use light, medium, and firm pressure, checking for lumps, thickening, or other changes.

5. Feel for Changes while Sitting Up:

  • Sit or stand with your right arm raised.
  • Use the same circular motion with your left hand to examine the right breast.

6. Repeat for the Left Breast:

  • Use the right hand to examine the left breast, following the same steps.

7. Check the Nipples:

  • Gently squeeze each nipple, checking for discharge or any changes.

8. Note Any Changes:

  • If you notice any changes, such as lumps, swelling, skin changes, or nipple discharge, consult a healthcare professional promptly.

Tips:

  • Use the pads of your fingers, not the tips, to ensure you're feeling the entire breast tissue.
  • Perform the exam in a systematic way to ensure you cover the entire breast.
  • It's normal for breasts to have some lumps, especially before menstruation. Focus on detecting changes or anything unusual.

Remember, regular breast self-exams should be part of a comprehensive approach to breast health, which includes regular clinical breast exams and mammograms as recommended by your healthcare provider. If you have any concerns or questions, seek professional medical advice.

According to Dr Monika Pansari, regular self-checks of the breast are important for several reasons:

  1. Early Detection of Abnormalities:
    • Early detection is crucial in the successful treatment of breast cancer. If breast cancer is detected at an early stage, before it has spread to other parts of the body, the chances of successful treatment and survival are significantly higher.
  2. Regular self-exams empower individuals by giving them a sense of control over their own health.
    • Regular self-checks should be part of a comprehensive breast health strategy that includes other methods like mammograms or clinical breast exams conducted by healthcare professionals.
  3. By regularly monitoring their breasts, individuals may become more attuned to factors that can influence breast health, such as hormonal changes, lifestyle choices, and family history.
  • This awareness can prompt discussions with healthcare providers about specific risk factors and appropriate preventive measures.

Asserting that self-awareness plays a crucial role in the early detection of breast cancer, Dr Monika Pansari highlighted several aspects of self-awareness that contribute to identifying potential issues at an early stage -

  1. Self-awareness prompts individuals to conduct regular breast self-exams, which involve visually and manually checking the breasts for any abnormalities.
  2. Self-awareness involves becoming familiar with the normal look and feel of one's breasts. Understanding the typical texture, size, and shape helps individuals recognize any deviations or changes.
  3. Being self-aware enables individuals to notice any changes in their breasts promptly. This can include the detection of lumps, skin changes, nipple discharge, or alterations in breast contour. Recognizing changes early allows for timely medical evaluation.
  4. Understanding personal risk factors, such as family history, age and lifestyle choices, contributes to self-awareness. Individuals with a heightened awareness of their risk factors may be more vigilant in monitoring their breast health.
  5. Self-awareness encourages individuals to take any unusual or concerning symptoms seriously and seek prompt medical attention. Early medical evaluation can lead to timely diagnosis and intervention.
  6. Being self-aware also involves open communication with healthcare providers. Individuals who are aware of changes in their breasts are more likely to share this information with their healthcare team, facilitating a collaborative approach to breast health.

She concluded, “It's important to note that while self-checks are valuable, they should be combined with regular clinical breast exams and mammograms as part of a comprehensive approach to breast health. Individuals should discuss their breast health and screening options with their healthcare providers to determine the most appropriate plan for their individual circumstances. In summary, self-awareness is a proactive and empowering aspect of breast health. By actively engaging in self-exams, monitoring changes, understanding risk factors, and maintaining open communication with healthcare providers, individuals contribute significantly to the early detection of breast cancer. Early detection often leads to more effective treatment options and improved outcomes.”

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