Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death among women, after lung cancer. If you can detect breast cancer early, you’re more likely to survive and have a better quality of life. In most cases, late diagnosis is what leads to a higher rate of mortality. Most women who have breast cancer don’t show any symptoms until the disease has progressed. Therefore, feeling for lumps whenever you can and going for regular breast cancer screenings are extremely important. That’s why it’s so crucial to perform a regular breast self-examination. Early detection is the best way to beat the disease.
How Common Is Breast Cancer?
Symptoms of breast cancer include:
- A breast lump or some form of thickening that has a different feel from the rest of the surrounding tissue
- Unexplained changes in the appearance, shape, or size of the breast
- Changes in the appearance of the breast skin — in most cases, dimpling
- An inverted nipple or a change in nipple positioning
- Scaling, flaking, or peeling of the skin that surrounds the nipple
- Redness of the breast skin that resembles orange skin
Why is Breast Self-Examination Important?
Cancer prevention has come a long way, but progress needs to continue. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness about breast cancer and advocating for breast health among women and men alike.
Self-detection is vital, with a large percentage of female survivors detecting breast cancer themselves. This stresses the importance of breast self-examination.
Some women are at higher risk of developing breast cancer than others, such as older women and those who:
- Have a previous breast cancer diagnosis or other breast conditions
- Have dense breasts or been exposed to radiation
- Have a high alcohol consumption
Likewise, you need to get yourself checked if a close relative like a sister, mother, or daughter has had breast cancer. While the statistics are staggering, just because you have several risk factors doesn’t necessarily mean you will develop some form of breast cancer. At the same time, just because you fall under the low-risk group doesn’t mean that you will never develop breast cancer.
While a breast self-exam is not the most reliable way of detecting breast cancer, the exam helps you understand your breasts better. By understanding how your breasts usually look and feel, you can notice any abnormal changes and inform your doctor.
There are so many conditions that may cause a woman’s breasts to change. Due to that, you need to go for a breast cancer screening at least once a year.
How to Do a Breast Self-Examination at Home
They say cancer prevention is better than a cure, and with breast cancer, this prevention begins with a regular breast exam that you can do at home.
Stand with your arms on your hips, making sure that your shoulders are straight, and start by looking at your breasts. Look out for any changes in color, shape, and size. Also, keep an eye out for any changes in the nipple, such as inversion or a change in position.
- Next, raise your arms above your head and check for the same changes.
- Check to see if there is any discharge coming out of the nipples. This could be a milky, watery, or yellowish fluid and, in some advanced cases, blood.
- Lie down and use your hands to feel for any lump in your breasts. Your right hand should examine your left breast, and vice versa.
- With your fingers together and lying flat, on the breasts, use circular motions to examine every quarter of the breasts from the collarbone to the armpit region.
- Begin at the nipple, making large circular motions. You can also move your fingers up and down in rows. The goal is to feel all the tissue, including deep inside the breast, so adjust the pressure accordingly.
- Then, stand up or sit straight in a chair and conduct the same breast examination. The best time to do a breast exam is when you shower, as the skin is wet.
Why are Exercise and Breast Cancer Screenings Important?
Exercise has always been at the top of the list when it comes to preventing diseases like dementia, diabetes, heart disease, and now breast cancer. According to research, physical activity is heavily linked to longer survival in women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Research shows that women who exercised regularly before and after their diagnoses were less likely to have cancer come back or die from it.
At the same time, while you should perform breast self-examinations regularly, a breast cancer screening is just as important, if not more important. The goal of cancer screening is to ensure early detection, which saves countless lives.
As with any other cancer, you are better off treating it in the early stages. Breast cancer screening uses a special series of X-rays called a mammogram.
During the screening, your doctor will look for any abnormal patterns in the breasts that showed up on the mammogram. The good thing about a mammogram is that it detects unusual patterns long before a breast lump is even detected.
If there are any unusual signs, the doctor will order another mammogram, an ultrasound, or even a biopsy. Contrary to popular belief, breast cancer screening isn’t just for older women; it can start in your forties.
What Other Steps can You Take to Maintain Breast Health?
You can reduce your risk of breast cancer by maintaining your breast health. Here are some ways you can do that:
- Maintain a healthy body weight by engaging in regular physical activity.
- Breastfeeding for as long as you can reduces your risk of breast cancer.
- Avoid consuming too much alcohol, and quit smoking.
- Find out your family’s breast cancer history, as you may be at a higher risk of developing the disease if you have a first-degree family member with breast cancer.
- Eat a healthy diet of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy proteins. Avoid highly processed and sugary foods.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Check for Lumps
Almost everyone has been directly or indirectly affected by breast cancer. Breast cancer awareness month is the time to check your breasts and form a regular self-examination habit. Conducting breast self-examinations at home should help you spot any irregular changes to your breasts.
Once a year, consider going for a thorough breast cancer screening, especially if you fall in the high-risk group. Prevention of breast cancer should, however, be your main priority. Eating a healthy diet, staying active, and avoiding too much alcohol all support your overall health and promote well-being.
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