Breast Cancer Awareness Month is drawing to a close, but this doesn’t mean we should stop talking about it. Breast Cancer can strike at any time and in most cases, early detection is key!
Women of all ages should aim to check their breasts once a month, and you’ll be glad to hear that doing it couldn’t be easier once you know how, so there’s no excuse! Getting to know your breasts is right up there with healthy eating and exercise in its importance for your health.
Breast cancer is often mistaken as something that only affects older women but it really doesn’t discriminate. Many women of various ages in the public eye have spoken candidly about their experiences with breast cancer and have become advocates for self-checking and spotting the signs early.
Cynthia Nixon (Miranda in Sex and the City) was diagnosed at the age of 40, when a lump in her right breast was discovered during a routine mammogram.
Popular country singer Sheryl Crow was diagnosed in 2006 at the age of 44 following the discovery of suspicious areas in both of her breasts during a routine mammogram. She said after her recovery that she is “a walking advertisement for early detection”.
Pop star Kylie Minogue discovered she had breast cancer at the age of 36 and her treatment included a partial mastectomy, radiation and chemotherapy. Following her recovery, Minogue encouraged other women to trust their gut and visit the doctor as soon as possible if they have any concerns about the health of their breasts.
TV host Tricia Goddard discovered that she had breast cancer after an overdue mammogram was advised by a radiographer when she was being x-rayed for a sports injury. This was prompted when she could not remember the last time she was checked. The cancer was fortunately detected at a very early stage, just as it had begun to spread, and Trisha recalls it was only ‘one microcell!’
While Trisha believes in regular self-breast checks, she says routine trips to the doctor are also imperative to spot things that you may have missed: ‘Like many, many women I have very dense breast tissue which makes lumps harder to detect and for this reason, I have annual mammograms’.
Make It a Habit
Hopefully, you now understand the importance of regularly checking your breasts, but how do you make it a habit?
There are several times where you can make a routine of checking, such as when having a shower or applying moisturiser. If you are particularly forgetful you can set a reminder on your phone, in fact, let’s do that now, pull out your phone and open your diary – Don’t worry, we’ll wait… All done? Great, let’s continue!
Remember, we are all unique, and your breasts might naturally feel lumpy, be different sizes or shapes, or change throughout your monthly cycle, try to check them at similar times during the month. If you feel something that you haven’t felt before try to not panic, instead, speak to your doctor if you are at all worried.
When checking your breasts, it is important to remember to check the whole chest area, reaching up to your armpits and along your collarbone. And don’t forget underneath your breasts, where the breast meets the rib cage – it’s all important!
For those of you still not sure how to perform a self-breast check, here’s a quick guide:
1) In the Shower
Using the pads of your fingers, move around your whole breast in a circular pattern moving from the outside to the nipple, checking the entire breast and armpit area. Check both breasts each month feeling for any lump, thickening, or hardened knot. Look for any asymmetry of the breast, any changes in your skin or discharge from your nipple.
2) In Front of a Mirror
Look at your breasts with your arms at your sides. Next, raise your arms high overhead.
Look for any changes in the contour, any swelling or dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples. Next, rest your palms on your hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles. The left and right breast may not match exactly (few women’s breasts do), but look out for any dimpling, puckering, or changes, particularly on one side. Make a note if you see a change that wasn’t there before and speak to your doctor.
3) Lying Down
When lying down, the breast tissue spreads out evenly along the chest wall. It might feel easier to feel abnormalities in this position. Place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently in small circular motions covering the entire breast area and armpit.
Use light, medium, and firm pressure. Squeeze the nipple; check for discharge and lumps. Repeat these steps for your left breast.
Even if you have the slightest concern the best course of action is a trip to the GP – breast changes can happen for a multitude of reasons, and most of them aren’t serious. In saying that, if you find a change, it’s important to rule out breast cancer, a trip to your doctor could at the very least put your mind at rest, but also has the potential to save your life!
Dr Seth Rankin is founder of London Doctors Clinic