How and When to Do a Breast Self-Exam

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

How to spot the early signs of breast cancer and carry out a self examination.

Clare Reid

September 30th, 2020

October Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Hello, my name is Clare. I am a Registered Nurse and work at Medbelle as a Medical Quality Manager.

In 2016 my mum was one of the 55,200 (on average) people annually in the UK who are diagnosed with breast cancer.

Her cancer was diagnosed during a routine mammogram. Once diagnosed, her treatment plan went as follows:

  • Biopsy performed during a breast surgery
  • She was then referred to an oncologist who developed a treatment plan
  • Treatment began with hormone therapy commenced & bone density scan
  • Her breast surgeon then removed the tumour surgically
  • This was followed by 6-8 weeks of radiotherapy
  • Then she had a 6-month check-up with her oncologist & breast surgeon

Once her main treatment was done, she was prescribed annual mammogram plus physical examinations by a breast surgeon for 5 years.

With access to great healthcare and support from family and friends, she is now four years in remission and doing great.

Physical Exams & What To Look For

Your gynaecologist or GP may perform a physical exam of your breasts during your yearly check-up.

You can easily support your GP by staying aware of your breast health and doing regular self-examinations between these yearly checks.

The first step in doing an effective self-examination of your breasts is to know what they look and feel like normally. Having a strong familiarity with what is normal for your body will make it easier for you to recognise if something changes.

What are visible symptoms of breast cancer?

Schedule an appointment with your GP if you notice any of these symptoms:

  • Discharge of any colour coming from your nipples
  • Any sudden change to skin texture, especially if it resembles the look of an orange peel
  • Dimpling, or a visible lump
  • Inversion of your nipple

The Importance of Breast Exams and Early Detection

According to Cancer Research UK, 1 in 7 women in the UK will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.

However, despite revolutionary technology in detection and treatment, around 11,500 people die in the UK every year due to breast cancer.

This is why early detection is such an important factor in contributing to positive outcomes after a breast cancer diagnosis. This is why we at Medbelle are supporting widespread awareness of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer.

Physical Exams & What To Look For

Your gynaecologist or GP may perform a physical exam of your breasts during your yearly checkup.

You can easily support your GP by staying aware of your breast health and doing regular self-examinations between these yearly checks.

The first step in doing an effective self-examination of your breasts is to know what they look and feel like normally.

Having a strong familiarity with what is normal for your body will make it easier for you to recognise if something changes.

What are visible symptoms of breast cancer?

Schedule an appointment with your GP if you notice any of these symptoms:

  • Discharge of any colour coming from your nipples
  • Any sudden change to skin texture, especially if it resembles the look of an orange peel
  • Dimpling, or a visible lump
  • Inversion of your nipple

How do I do a breast self-examination?

To examine your breasts, look at their shape, size and skin texture in a mirror while either sitting or standing. Be sure to examine yourself at the same time each month whilst avoiding periods.

Lift your arms above your head, then lower your arms and lean your chest forward.

Moving your torso and arms gives you different views of your breasts and makes lumps or dimpling easier to see.

To feel for lumps in your breasts, use the pads of your first 3 fingers and press on the breast on the opposite breast in a small circular motion. You can do this standing, sitting or lying down.

Many patients find it easier to do in the shower or bath as the water can help your fingers move more easily across your skin.

Continue making these small circles all across your chest. Moving your hand in a vertical or circular pattern can make it easier to keep track of the areas you have felt and the areas you haven’t.

Don’t forget to feel your armpits and up to your collarbone. There are large groups of lymph nodes here that may be enlarged if something is wrong.

Getting into the habit of checking your breasts regularly. This is important so you can notice abnormalities early on. If you still have questions or concerns or are struggling to examine yourself do speak to your GP.

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