Breast cancer continues to be a critical healthcare concern globally. While it predominantly affects women, men can also be affected. Early detection remains a cornerstone of successful breast cancer treatment.
This in-depth guide is an educational resource for understanding the crucial role of Breast Self-Exams (BSEs) in early detection and overall breast health. It addresses why performing a self-breast exam at home is invaluable and provides a historical context and methodology.
At Prima CARE, preventative care is at the heart of what we do, including in gynecology and women's health. We are proud to offer our patients mammography technology, elevating the standard for early and accurate detection of breast cancer.
What is a Breast Self-Exam?
A Breast Self-Exam (BSE) is a simple way for you to check your own breasts. It means looking at and feeling your breasts to notice any changes. While doctor-performed tests like mammograms are the best for finding breast cancer early, doing BSEs can help you know what's normal for your breasts.
This way, if there's a change, you can tell a doctor sooner. The primary purpose of a BSE is to find anything unusual, which could be a sign of a breast problem, even cancer.
Why is it Important to Do Self-Exams?
Breast awareness is an essential aspect of healthcare for women. BSEs offer a practical, no-cost tool to monitor the body for changes that could indicate an early stage of breast cancer.
According to a study involving 266,064 women, self-exams helped in the early detection of small tumors around 60% of the time.
They also detected 96% of larger tumors. This shows that adopting the practice as early as age 20 and incorporating it into monthly routines can be crucial.
What Can BSEs Detect?
Breast Self-Exams (BSEs) help you learn what's normal for your own breasts. This way, you can notice any changes, like new lumps, changes in texture, or unusual pain. These changes can be signs of many different things, not just cancer. Knowing what to look for helps you talk to a doctor sooner for any tests or treatments you might need.
Let's look at some more reasons why:
Breast cancer is a disease that can be influenced by your genes and your environment. Breast Self-Exams (BSEs) help you find early signs to get medical help quickly.
Breast cysts are like small water balloons in the breast. They're mostly harmless, but sometimes a doctor should check them.
This is often a discomfort linked to your menstrual cycle. A BSE can help you identify this pain, but it's usually not a sign of cancer.
Some breasts feel lumpy or sore. This is often due to fibrocystic changes and isn't usually about cancer.
Male Breast Cancer
Breast cancer can also happen in men, even if it's rare. Men should get any breast changes checked.
Paget's Disease of the Breast
This is a rare form of breast cancer that affects the nipple. BSEs can help you notice symptoms like itchiness or flaking on the nipple, which should be looked at by a doctor.
How to Prepare for a Breast Self-Exam
Consult with a Healthcare Provider
Before embarking on the journey of performing self-breast exams, it's crucial to consult a healthcare provider. Your primary care provider or gynecologist can provide a hands-on demonstration of proper technique, ensuring you understand the difference between normal and abnormal breast tissue. This sets a baseline for what you should look for during your own inspections.
Timing is Key
For women who menstruate, timing can significantly impact the effectiveness and comfort of your breast self-exam. Hormonal changes during your menstrual cycle affect breast tissue, leading to swelling or tenderness. The optimal time to perform your breast self-exam is generally one week after your period ends. During this phase, hormonal effects have lessened, and your breasts are less tender, making it easier to detect any irregularities or changes.
Step-by-Step Guide: How to Perform a Breast Self-Exam
Inspection of Your Breasts
- In Front of a Mirror: Stand undressed from the waist up in front of a mirror with good lighting. Arms should be at your sides. Keep an eye out for changes in the size, shape, and color of your breasts.
- Different Angles and Positions: Raise your arms high overhead then place your hands on your hips, tightening your chest muscles. This helps you view your breasts from various angles.
- Physical Touch: Feel your left breast with your right hand and vice versa, keeping your fingers flat and together. Use your middle fingers, applying light, medium, and firm pressure in a circular motion.
- Armpit to Collarbone: With the pads of your fingers, apply medium pressure to feel the tissue from your armpit to your collarbone and from your cleavage to your breast’s outer edge.
- Examine Your Breasts Entirely: Ensure you cover the entire breast—Outside, Middle, Inside—checking for lumps or thickening.
- Nipple Inspection: Gently squeeze the nipple, checking for any discharge.
Monitoring for Changes
- Breast Awareness: Consistent self-exams help you become familiar with the normal look and feel of your breasts, making it easier to detect changes early on.
- Documentation: Keep a log of your findings. Note any changes or irregularities that you detect.
When to Consult Your Healthcare Team
If you find any of the following, consult your healthcare provider immediately:
- Hard lumps or knots near your underarm
- Changes in your breast’s skin texture (dimples, puckers, etc.)
- Nipple changes or discharge
How Long Does a Breast Exam Take?
Conducting a BSE effectively requires just a few minutes and can be incorporated into daily routines.
Take Control of Your Breast Health With Prima CARE
The act of regularly examining your breasts is a cornerstone of vigilant healthcare, particularly in the context of detecting breast cancer early. As breast tissue spreads from the armpit to the collarbone, and even toward the chest, a comprehensive self-exam allows for a thorough inspection that could be pivotal in early identification of anomalies.
While imaging tests and clinical examinations of the breast provide indispensable accuracy, they should complement, not replace, self-exams. This is especially critical for many women who may be at high risk due to genetics or lifestyle factors.
Concerned about your breast health or unsure about your self-exam technique? It's always best to consult professionals. At Prima CARE, our expert team is ready to assist, guide, and provide the personalized care you deserve. Reach out today.
What is the normal assessment of the breast?
A normal examination of the breast should reveal symmetric breasts with no palpable lumps, masses, or skin changes. Nipples should be without discharge, and there should be no pain upon palpation.
How many steps are in a breast self-exam?
A comprehensive breast self-exam typically involves three primary steps: visual inspection, palpation while standing, and palpation while lying down.
Why would I be referred to a breast clinic?
You might be referred to a breast clinic for more specialized care if you have suspicious findings during a breast self-exam, mammogram, or clinical breast exam, such as lumps, skin changes, or unusual nipple discharge.
What is breast awareness?
Being breast aware means having a heightened sense of normalcy and any changes in your breasts, enabling earlier detection of any abnormalities. It involves regularly examining your breasts and being aware of what is typical for you.