How to do breast self-exam

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Friday, January 31, 2014


SINCE January is also known as the Cancer Awareness Month, I thought of writing about breast self-exam (BSE) as it aids in the early detection of breast cancers.

As a matter of fact, the American Cancer Society supports the notion that BSE is the first line of defense against breast cancer.

As a preliminary, every woman must be familiar how their breasts normally feel as any changes that occur are readily recognized.

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This is, however, best accomplished if BSE is practiced regularly.

According to literatures, the breasts normally feel lumpy due to the following reasons:

(1) Fibrous and fatty tissues, milk glands and ducts. However, research shows that 50 to 60 percent of lumps are harmless;

(2) A fluid-filled cyst that changes size depending on the phase of menstrual cycle;

(3) Build-up of fibrous tissues that feels like a hard movable lump; and

(4) Pseudolumps due to scar tissues from surgery, a dead fat deposit, a rib pressing to the breast tissue.

On the other hand, cancerous lumps have the following distinguishing characteristics:

(1) Oddly-shaped and not rounded;

(2) Bumpy like a golf ball;

(3) Hard and firm like a slice of carrot; and

(4) Immovable but the tissue around them may move.

Any suspected manifestation of breast cancer can be confirmed with clinical examinations and mammogram.

Various statistical data also maintain that up to 80 percent of breast lumps turn out to be non-cancerous.

Health experts advise that all women over 20 years of age must practice BSE on a monthly basis and it only takes 15 minutes.

It is also said that the best time to do BSE is at the end of the menstrual cycle or at the beginning of every month if the woman is no longer menstruating.

Nursing mothers can do BSE after the breasts are emptied. BSE consists of two parts: seeing and feeling.

First, check how your breasts normally appear in front of a full mirror with your hands at your sides, raised over your head and from the side.

While doing so check for symmetry, the contour, color and texture of each breast. It is normal however to see one breast larger than the other.

However, watch out for the following: changes in shape; texture changes; a hard knot that is smaller than a pea; tenderness or soreness; color changes; moles; rashes and nipple changes, especially discharges.

You may also inspect for changes by pressing your hands around your hips and tightening your muscles at your chest then bend forward at the waist with your arms resting to your side.

These positions help you identify dimpling or puckering that are tell-tale signs of a tumor pulling on a breast tissue.

The second part of BSE is feeling: this makes use of the pads of your fingers to feel for lumps.

In this part of the exam, you first lie down on a bed while placing a pillow under your shoulder and place your hand under your head to allow you to examine the entire breast area from your collar bone, under your bra line and armpit area.

Use the pads of your three middle fingers to feel your breast using a smooth touch with varying pressure from soft to firm.

You do this by starting at your nipple, work outward in a spiral checking the entire breast and armpit areas.

Examine the entire area in a circular motion and then repeat this technique under your armpit as well.

However, according to one source, in using this technique, the woman must not lift the fingers as doing so may lose the lump or mass that may slide to the other side.

Gently squeeze the nipple to check for any discharge.

And then repeat this process to the other breast.

After checking the breast while lying down, repeat the process while you are standing.

You may also do the standing phase while having a warm shower.

If you feel anything unusual or you suspect that something might be wrong, consult your physician right away for a more thorough examination like undergoing a mammogram, which can detect a lump one to three years before it can be felt.

Sources: The American Cancer Society; United Health Care; Primary Care of Women- UPOU Press

[Email: polo.medical.sociologist@gmail.com]

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on January 31, 2014.

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