Every female who has fully formed breasts is recommended to check them for breast cancer at least once a month (more often is considered more prudent). However, some women seem to either forget to do such an important “self-check” (40% of all breast cancer diagnosed is found by self-examination), or simply do not know how or what they are looking for if they were to do one.
Guidelines on how to perform a self-examination of the breasts:
1. In the shower or bath – are the best places to self-check the breasts (the hot water and soap tent to make the skin more soft and easy to feel any underlying problems that may be present). Using the finger-tips – move around the entire breast in a circular motion (start from the outside and work inwards), together with the axilla (armpit) to feel for any unusual lumps or knots, thickening of the skin, or rashes similar to eczema (dry skin, red patches, itchy) and psoriasis (patches of raised skin [red] and silvery scales) around the nipple which may indicate Paget’s disease (a rear form of breast cancer that affects the nipple).
2. In front of a mirror – with both arms at the sides, slowly raise them above the head while looking for any unusual changes to the contours of the breasts, swelling, skin dimpling, nipple inversion (nipple turned inwards), or discharge of the nipples. Next rest the palms of the hands on the hips and flex firmly the chest muscles (both left and right breasts may not match exactly [usual in most women]) to look for any dimpling, or puckering (wrinkles or irregular folds) to either breast.
3. Lying down on the floor/bed – with a pillow placed under the right shoulder while extending the right arm over the head – check the breast and axilla using the tips of the fingers of the left-hand in the same way as previously explained in the shower. Also squeeze the nipple to check for any discharge that may be present. This procedure must then be repeated for the left breast by placing the pillow under the left shoulder and using the right hand to complete the examination.
Note: If anything unusual is found, it is recommended to make an appointment with either a doctor or health adviser as soon as possible to clarify any findings. If breast cancer is suspected, a referral will be made to a specialist who may order a mammogram to check for the possibility of a breast tumor. Around 80% of lumps found in the breast are NOT cancerous; however, because the remaining 20% are, self-examinations of the breasts are vital.