Cancer. It’s a word that inspires fear, uncertainty and a host of emotions that can range from anger and confusion to hopelessness and grief. While cancer can be beaten if caught early enough, it helps to know the signs and symptoms so that you give yourself the best possible chance of recovery. There are many different kinds of cancer, but, for the purposes of this blog, we’ll be talking about breast cancer and ‘busting’ two of the biggest myths along the way.
Myth 1: Only women get breast cancer.
Wrong. While breast cancer is more prevalent among women, it is rarely a condition that men are also diagnosed with. So, this type of cancer affects both men and women. Check out our blog on male breast cancer for more info by clicking here.
Myth 2: If you get breast cancer, you WILL die.
Death and taxes, as the old saying goes, are two things that are pretty much guaranteed in this life. Yes, everyone alive right now will eventually die. But, death from cancer, fortunately, doesn’t come with that same guarantee. It is a fact that cancer if detected early, and with the appropriate medical treatment can be stopped, as there are cancer survivors who are in remission, and consequently, alive. However, each case is different, and false hope helps no-one, so get medical advice soonest.
Forewarned is forearmed
With our busy and stressful modern lifestyle, it’s easy to not pay attention to our bodies. It’s tempting to ignore the little tell-tale signs and attribute those to general fatigue and a busy schedule, but subtle changes in your body could be cause for concern. Have a look below to see a few tips on self-examination, particularly your breasts, and if one or more symptoms present, it’s best to go see your doctor right away.
How you prepare
To prepare for your breast self-exam for breast awareness:
- Ask your doctor for a demonstration. Before you begin breast self-exams for breast awareness, you may find it helpful to discuss the instructions and technique with your doctor.
- If you menstruate, choose a time in your cycle when your breasts are least tender. Your hormone levels fluctuate each month during your menstrual cycle, which causes changes in breast tissue. Swelling begins to decrease when your period starts. The best time to perform a self-exam for breast awareness is usually the week after your period ends.
What you can expect
Begin with a visual examination of your breasts
Sit or stand shirtless and braless in front of a mirror with your arms at your sides. To inspect your breasts visually, do the following:
- Face forward and look for puckering, dimpling, or changes in size, shape or symmetry.
- Check to see if your nipples are turned in (inverted).
- Inspect your breasts with your hands pressed down on your hips.
- Inspect your breasts with your arms raised overhead and the palms of your hands pressed together.
- Lift your breasts to see if ridges along the bottom are symmetrical.
- If you have a vision impairment that makes it difficult for you to visually inspect your breasts, ask a trusted friend or a family member to help you.
- Next, use your hands to examine your breasts
Common ways to perform the manual part of the breast exam include:
Lying down. Choose a bed or other flat surface to lie down on your back. When lying down, the breast tissue spreads out, making it thinner and easier to feel.
In the shower. Lather your fingers and breasts with soap to help your fingers glide more smoothly over your skin.
When examining your breasts, some general tips to keep in mind include:
- Use the pads of your fingers. Use the pads, not the very tips, of your three middle fingers for the exam. If you have difficulty feeling with your finger pads, use another part of your hand that is more sensitive, such as your palm or the backs of your fingers.
- Use different pressure levels. Your goal is to feel different depths of the breast by using different levels of pressure to feel all the breast tissue. Use light pressure to feel the tissue closest to the skin, medium pressure to feel a little deeper, and firm pressure to feel the tissue closest to the chest and ribs. Be sure to use each pressure level before moving on to the next spot. If you're not sure how hard to press, talk with your doctor or nurse.
- Take your time. Don't rush. It may take several minutes to carefully examine your breasts.
- Follow a pattern. Use a methodical technique to ensure you examine your entire breast. For instance, imagine the face of a clock over your breast or the slices of a pie. Begin near your collarbone and examine that section, moving your fingers toward your nipple. Then move your fingers to the next section.
If you have a disability that makes it difficult to examine your breasts using this technique, you likely can still conduct a breast self-exam. Ask your doctor to show you ways you can examine your breasts.
Many women find lumps or changes in their breasts since some of these are normal changes that occur at various points in the menstrual cycles. Finding a change or lump in your breast is not a reason to panic. Breasts often feel different in different places. A firm ridge along the bottom of each breast is normal, for instance. The look and feel of your breasts will change as you age.
When to contact your doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice:
- A hard lump or knot near your underarm
- Changes in the way your breasts look or feel, including thickening or prominent fullness that is different from the surrounding tissue
- Dimples, puckers, bulges or ridges on the skin of your breast
- A recent change in a nipple to become pushed in (inverted) instead of sticking out
- Redness, warmth, swelling or pain
- Itching, scales, sores or rashes
- Bloody nipple discharge
Your doctor may recommend additional tests and procedures to investigate breast changes, including a clinical breast exam, mammogram, and ultrasound.
Source: Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/breast-exam/about/pac-20393237
One final word on your breast health
If you’ve found lumps that you’re worried about, it’s important that you make an appointment with your doctor right away. With a busy schedule, it’s easy to forget.
Don’t worry. Make your doctor’s appointment by simply downloading the Memo Health app, get a reminder to notify you on the day of your appointment, so you won’t miss it, you can find the free app for Android here.