It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month – time to check yourself and know what “normal” feels like to you and your body.
It’s never easy to acknowledge the impact of the “C” word, but in the developed world, 1 in 8 women develop breast cancer at some point in their lives. *It’s the most common type of cancer in the world; last year alone 2 million women were given this diagnosis across the world.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and though we’re surrounded by pink advertising this month (which we’re all for!); pinkathons, think pink afternoon tea-sets, pink cosmetics deals, monuments lit in pink, the only way to make sure you and your breasts are fine and dandy is early detection. We’re not talking annual mammograms, but more about feeling your boobs on a monthly basis, knowing what’s your normal and what’s not so that every soreness, dimple, discharge or twinge sends a clear signal to the brain. But before we school you in breast self-examination, let’s lay down the basics.
(Source: American Cancer Society)
Who is at risk?
Anyone with boobs.
That’s not just women but men, transgender, cisgender, basically anyone with breast tissue can get cancer of the breast. It’s definitely far more common in women but male breast tissue is kind of similar to the female’s and the American Cancer Society estimates that 1 in 1000 men suffer from breast cancer at some point in their lives.
Another breast cancer myth is that the disease is all down to genetics but did you know that 80% of the people who get breast cancer don’t have any family history? So, let’s not only blame the BRCA 1 and BRCA2 genes which raise the breast cancer risk by a whopping 56%; the grave diagnosis has got a lot to do with your age, lifestyle, oestrogen and progesterone exposure, alcohol use or abuse, unhealthy body weight, activity level and environment as well.
The changes to watch out for:
Breasts are lumpy. When I first started doing the monthly exams, I would live in constant fear of being a living ball of tumours. But after a couple of months, you get a hang of what’s your normal, what your boobs look and feel like at a certain point in your menstrual cycle, so when something’s off, you know to will alert your doctor.
When to do a breast self-examination?
The best time for a self-exam is the fourth or the fifth day of your menstrual cycle, that’s when the pre-period breast thickening has subsided so there will be no unusual breast tenderness. The general rule of thumb is to check your breasts for irregularities at the same time every month.
Look out for these signs
- Any hard, irregular blob which does not move with your fingers or the rest of the breast tissue.
- Any lumpy/bumpy swelling or dimpling, even changes in the texture of your boob or towards the armpit.
- Changes in shape or size of one boob.
- Nipple discharge when you’re not pregnant or way past breastfeeding.
- Nipple discharge in one breast.
- Swollen lymph nodes in the armpit or around the neck bone.
- Thickening of the areola, any redness or scaliness in this area.
If something does strike a nerve, don’t go into panic mode, keep calm and know that most lumps are harmless tumours, but consult your doctor for further tests.
How to perform the breast self-check correctly:
1. Lie down on your back on the bed or stand in the shower and put your hand above the head. Use the Index, middle and ring finger of the other hand to begin the exam.
2. Mentally divide the breast into 4 quadrants and then start by pressing your fingers firmly into the armpit using circular motions while coming towards the nipple.
3. Check one part of the breast at a time and then work your way around the entire boob.
4. Repeat the process on both the breasts.
5. Check firmly under your armpits for any swollen lymph nodes – they’ll feel like peas under your skin.
6. Squeeze the nipples to see if there is any abnormal discharge. By abnormal discharge, we mean any discharge which shouldn’t be there and blood.
7. Stand in front of the mirror and observe the shape, size and texture of your breasts. Is there a change? Anything suspicious like bumps, rashes or retracted nipples which don’t look normal, need to be reported to the doctor straight away.
That’s it, keep a close watch on your twins and stay healthy!
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