You probably mean to do your breast self-exam (BSE) every month, but it often slips your mind, right? Or maybe you’ve heard that some people don’t think BSE is helpful in detecting breast cancer early and increasing the likelihood of survival. But experts still believe that BSE is a useful and essential screening strategy, especially in conjunction with regular physical exams by a doctor and mammography. Why?
Sure, there are statistics that say things like:
- About 20% of the time, breast cancers are found by physical examination rather than by mammography
- Nine out of 10 breast masses are detected through BSE.
But put aside the numbers and the science. The point is, in order to keep yourself healthy, you need to know your body better than anyone else! And being proactive with your health means doing whatever you can to lower your chances of developing breast cancer—which includes making sure that if breast cancer does develop it is caught early, in a treatable stage. With early detection and treatment, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer soars to more than 90%. Plus, performing your monthly BSE will help to determine what is normal for your breasts, and help you recognize a change.
The experience can be frustrating—for example, you may feel things but not know what they mean. But the more often you do it, the more you’ll learn about your own breasts and what’s normal for them, and the easier it will be for you to tell if something different or unusual is going on.
Perform your BSE 6 days after your period or on the first day of the month, if you no longer have periods. Remember that everyone’s breasts are different, and that any changes you see or feel can be related to aging, your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, menopause or hormone use. Regular BSE will help to identify changes that require further evaluation and possible treatment.
What should you look for?
- Lumps, hard knots or thickening in the breast or underarm area
- Unusual swelling, warmth, redness or darkening that does not go away
- Change in the size or shape of your breast
- Dimpling or puckering of the skin
- An itch, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
- Pulling in of the nipple or other parts of the breast
- Nipple discharge that starts suddenly or is bloody
- Pain that is localized in one area and that does not vary with your monthly cycle
Nobody wants to think about getting cancer. But the fact is, taking the time to check yourself out is your best defense when it comes to caring for your health. If you have any questions about how to perform your BSE, ask your doctor – or call Chouchani, Sayegh and Bagnarello, MD. We’d be happy to offer any help you need.
Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.