1 in 8 women in the UK will develop breast cancer in their lifetime and and 400 men are diagnosed every year. Checking your breasts regularly and knowing the signs and symptoms of breast cancer is one way of detecting breast cancer in the early stages, however a breast cancer care survey found a third of women are not regularly checking, and a fifth say it is because they don’t know how.
I’ve been trained to examine breasts but I have to admit that it wasn’t until I started working within breast surgery that I started to check myself. Breast cancer can affect all ages, and although 99% of cases are women, it can affect men also.
There is no real right or wrong way of doing it, and you can easily fit it into your morning routine whether it is whilst in the shower or getting dressed. The important thing to remember is everyones breasts look different and our breasts change throughout our lifetime and even throughout our menstrual cycle. For example you may find that around your period your breasts feel a little tender to touch and may even feel fuller. The important thing is knowing what is normal for you, and the best way of knowing that is to get regularly have a look and a feel.
Remember to check both breasts but also under your armpits and up to your collarbone as your breast tissue extends further than you may think.
Not all lumps are breast cancer, and breast cancer isn’t all about lumps.
Most breast lumps (90%) aren’t cancerous, and may in fact be caused by normal breast changes or a benign (not cancer) breast condition. However, if you notice a change, it’s important to see your GP as soon as you can.
Although most people who are diagnosed with breast cancer can feel a lump, in many cases there is no obvious lump so it is important to look out for the other changes such as :
- A change in shape or size of one or both breasts.
- An area that feels thicker than the rest of the tissue.
- A change in skin texture such as puckering or dimpling (like the skin of an orange)
- Redness or a rash on the skin and/or around the nipple
- A change in the shape of the nipple.
- Discharge from the nipple (which may be coloured or blood stained)
- Breast pain*
- Other no breast symptoms include; unintentional weight loss or fatigue.
*Breast pain is not a common symptom of breast cancer.
How to get started..
Stand in front of the mirror with your hands on your hips. Scan your breasts for any changes in skin colour, texture, or obvious lumps – and make sure to not forget the nipple. Raise your hands above your head and have another look.
Next have a feel of the breast. It is often advise to do this lying down, examining the opposite breast with the opposite hand and placing your free arm behind your head. Using a flat hand gently check one breast at a time using a systematic approach – I like working in quadrants and then moving on to the armpit and under the collar bone. Check for any lumps or thickening, also note if you feel any pain.
How often do I need to check?
I recommend having a feel once a month. If you think you may forget use an easy to remember date like the 1 st of the month as a reminder, or pop it in you diary.
What happens if I do find something?
If you found a lump, or noticed a change, or even if you’re not quite sure. Pop along to your GP as they are the best person to check for you and also refer you for any scans or further tests are needed.