Breast self-examination: A crucial tool for early breast cancer detection
Breast cancer is a significant health concern for women worldwide, including those in Australia. Early detection is key to successful treatment, and one of the ways women can actively participate in their own health is through regular self-examination.
By carrying out this check regularly, women can monitor their breasts for any signs and symptoms meaning early detection of a problem is more possible. However, many people don’t know how to carry out these exams and are often too embarrassed to ask. This article provides a detailed step-by-step guide as well as how often you should get checked and what age you are most at risk of developing breast cancer.
Remember that if you ever notice anything unusual during your self-check, it is essential to consult an online doctor in Australia who can provide guidance, refer you to a specialist if necessary, and even write an online medical certificate if you require time off work to do so.
It’s also important to mention that while it’s less common, men can develop breast cancer too, so they should always be on the lookout for lumps and other symptoms on their chest.
How to conduct a breast self-examination
Breast self-examination is a simple yet essential procedure that can easily be performed at home. It involves systematically checking your breasts for any changes or abnormalities.
1. Choose a comfortable location: Find a well-lit and private place where you will be able to stand or sit comfortably with your clothes off.
2. Undress from the waist up: Remove your clothing from the waist up, including your bra.
3. Visual inspection: Stand in front of a mirror with your arms at your sides. Look at your breasts in the mirror, observing any changes in size, shape, or contour. Check for any skin dimpling, puckering, or redness and whether one breast is significantly different to the other.
4. Raise your arms: Raise your arms above your head and inspect your breasts again, this is because abnormalities may not be noticeable until the chest is lifted slightly. Pay attention to the same visual cues, including changes in the nipple or surrounding area.
5. Palpation: Lie down on your back and stretch your three middle fingers out together. Use the pads of them to gently feel your breasts in a circular motion. Start from the outside and work your way in, covering the entire breast, including the armpit area.
6. Vary pressure: As you palpitate the breasts, use different levels of pressure. You don’t want to check them too lightly as you may not be able to identify lumps that are slightly deeper. However, you don’t want to press too hard either. Start with light pressure and gradually increase it; be thorough, but avoid causing discomfort.
7. Check the nipples: Examine your nipples for any changes in size, shape, colour or discharge. Gently squeeze each nipple to check for discharge and check if there is any crustiness around the tips.
How often should you conduct a breast self-examination?
Experts recommend performing breast self-examinations on a monthly basis. Ideally, this should be done a few days after your menstrual period, as breast changes due to hormonal fluctuations are less likely to interfere with your observations. For post-menopausal women or those with irregular periods, choosing a specific day each month for the examination can help ensure consistency.
When should you start examining your breasts?
Breast self-examinations can be initiated as soon as a woman’s breasts develop, typically in the late teens or early twenties. However, as breast cancer risk increases with age, it becomes even more crucial to carry out these checks as you get older, particularly after the age of 40. Coupled with regular clinical breast exams and mammograms, self-examinations offer a well-rounded approach to early detection.
Australia has a BreastScreen programme that offers women over 40 a free mammogram every two years, and they actively encourage women between the ages of 50 to 74 to take up this offer.
A mammogram is a specialised X-ray that screens and diagnoses breast cancer by taking a detailed image of the internal tissue. The process involves compressing each breast between two plates and detecting if there are any abnormalities such as tumours or calcifications, even before they are noticeable in self-examination.
Breast self-examination is a vital component of breast cancer awareness and early detection. It enables women to actively participate in their health and catch potential issues early, increasing the chances of successful treatment. Remember that if you ever notice anything unusual during your self-check, make an appointment with either an in-person or online doctor in Australia straight away. They can provide guidance and will most likely refer you for a mammogram or to a specialist for further tests. It’s important to attend these appointments and if you need to take time off work or school for this, you can obtain an online medical certificate for this.
If an online consultation is more suitable for you, there are many options available. You can make an appointment with a teledoctor regardless of where you are in the country and most of the services can help you with online scripts and referrals as well as the initial appointment.