Hello, incredible women of strength and resilience! Today, we invite you to embark on a journey that celebrates the remarkable power of your bodies and the unwavering strength that resides within each and every one of you. It’s time to delve deep into a crucial topic that may sometimes be surrounded by apprehension—self-breast exams.
In 2020 alone we lost 1,517 women aged 50–74 to breast cancer. That’s a staggering 43 deaths per 100,000 women. These numbers serve as a stark reminder of the urgent necessity for early detection and intervention.
So, together, we are going to equip you with knowledge and tools to take control of your health and well-being. This journey is about empowerment, self-care, and proactive steps that can make a world of difference.
OK, ladies, it’s that time – let’s take charge of our breast health together.
Why Should You Do It?
Before we dive into the practical ‘how-to’ of self-breast exams, let’s pause for a moment to reflect on why they are crucial. Breast cancer knows no bounds—it affects women from all walks of life, regardless of age, background, or circumstance.
Tragically, breast cancer ranks as the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths among Australian women, second only to lung cancer.
Think of self-breast exams as your secret weapon in the battle against breast cancer—a powerful tool that puts you in control of your own health and well-being.
Here’s the deal: early detection is key to surviving breast cancer, so by becoming intimately familiar with the intricacies of your breasts and regularly monitoring them for any changes, you become a vigilant guardian of your health. You create a protective shield that can catch potential issues in their earliest, most manageable stages.
But it’s not just about early detection; it’s also about empowerment. Self-breast exams enable you to build a profound connection with your body, fostering self-awareness, self-care, and a sense of responsibility for your health journey. So, as we embark on this step-by-step guide, remember that you are not only gaining practical knowledge but also embracing a powerful act of self-love and self-care.
When to Do It?
Timing is everything, and this holds true for self-breast exams as well. The ideal time for a self-breast exam is a few days after your menstrual period has concluded. Why, you ask? Well, during your menstrual cycle, hormonal fluctuations can lead to temporary changes in your breast tissue. By examining your breasts when they are in their most natural state, you can more accurately identify any unusual changes.
Now, if you’re no longer menstruating or have irregular cycles, no worries! Simply pick a day each month that’s easy to remember, like the first or last day of the month, and make it your self-care day. The key is consistency—making self-breast exams a regular part of your health routine.
Before we get hands-on, let’s ensure you’re fully prepared. The first step is to wash your hands thoroughly. Clean hands not only ensure a hygienic examination but also provide a comfortable, irritation-free experience. Think of it as a small ritual of self-care, a moment of self-pampering before you embark on this empowering journey.
You might also want to gather a few essentials—a mirror, a comfortable seat, and a towel or pillow to make your examination process as comfortable as possible. You’re creating a safe, welcoming space for yourself, and that’s worth celebrating.
The Visual Inspection
Now, let’s commence with the ‘how-to’ of self-breast exams. We start with the visual inspection—a moment to appreciate the magnificence of your body.
Symmetry: Begin by standing in front of a mirror, observing your breasts. It’s important to note that slight differences in size or positioning are completely normal. What you’re looking for are sudden, noticeable changes. Your body is unique, and understanding its nuances is part of the journey.
Skin Changes: Pay close attention to the skin on your breasts. Are there any changes in texture, colour, or any dimpling or puckering? These subtle shifts might be early signs of an issue that deserves your attention.
Nipple Changes: Examine your nipples, gently squeezing them to check for any discharge. Clear or milky discharge is typically benign, but any unusual discharge, sores, or changes in direction should be promptly reported to your doctor.
The Manual Examination
Now, it’s time to get hands-on with your health. Lie down on your back, place a folded towel or pillow under your right shoulder to elevate it slightly, and use your right hand to examine your left breast (and vice versa).
Fingertip Technique: Employ the pads of your three middle fingers (not the tips) to explore your breast tissue. Begin with small, circular motions, working your way from the outer edges to the centre. This method ensures thorough coverage.
Pressure: Vary the pressure you apply, using light, medium, and firm touches. Different levels of pressure help you feel various tissue layers and structures within your breasts. Remember, though—gentleness is key. There’s no need for excessive force; you’re looking for subtle changes.
Pattern: To ensure comprehensive examination, establish a systematic pattern. You can move in rows, or you can visualize it as following the “spokes of a wheel” from the nipple outward. The goal is to cover every inch of your breast tissue.
Checking the Nipples and Armpits
Don’t forget to extend your examination to the nipples and the adjacent armpit areas—these are vital components of your breast health.
Nipples: Continue your gentle examination by checking your nipples for any changes or abnormalities. As mentioned earlier, clear or milky discharge is usually normal, but any unusual nipple changes should be reported to your healthcare provider.
Armpits: Extend your exploration to your armpits. Your lymph nodes, located in this region, play a significant role in your body’s immune system. Any lumps or swollen lymph nodes could be signs of issues that merit medical attention.
What to Look and Feel For
While performing your self-breast exam, keep an eye out for these potential signs of concern:
- Lumps or Thickening: Be alert to any new, distinct lumps or areas of thickening that you haven’t noticed before.
- Changes in Texture: Observe changes in the texture of your breast tissue, such as a pebbly or dimpled appearance.
- Pain or Discomfort: Although many breast lumps are painless, any persistent pain or discomfort in your breast or armpit should not be ignored.
- Changes Over Time: Remember that your breasts can undergo changes throughout your menstrual cycle. However, if you notice persistent changes that don’t seem to align with your cycle or linger beyond a couple of cycles, it’s time to consult your doctor.
What to Do if You Find Something Concerning
Now, let’s address what you should do if you stumble upon something during your self-breast exam that raises concern.
- Stay Calm: Take a deep breath and remain calm. Remember that early detection can significantly increase the odds of successful treatment.
- Contact Your Doctor: Reach out to your healthcare provider promptly and convey what you’ve discovered during your self-exam. They are your allies in this journey and will guide you through the necessary steps, which may include a physical examination, medical imaging (like a mammogram or ultrasound), or a biopsy if required.
- Stay Informed: Stay informed about your health. Ask questions, seek second opinions if necessary, and be an active participant in your healthcare journey. You are your best advocate.
Ladies, your breasts are as unique as you are, and they deserve your love, attention, and care.
Regular self-breast exams are not just a duty to your health but also a celebration of your body and your strength. By following this step-by-step guide, you’re embarking on a journey of self-empowerment—one that allows you to understand your body intimately and to be in control of your own health destiny.
So, mark your calendars, set a monthly reminder, chat with your besties about this blog, and make self-breast exams an indispensable part of your self-care routine.
Please note: This document uses the term ‘women’ to mean ‘female’ when referring to cancer incidence data and cancer mortality data, as these data sources are based on sex assigned at birth. However, it should be noted that some people may not identify with this term.