Breast exam is one of the few crucial tests to detect a tumor. The tumor could be benign or malignant, alternative terms for noncancerous and cancerous respectively. A physical exam or inspection of the breast is often imperative to detect a tumor. Ultrasound and mammography are not always useful to find all types of tumors. There has been some debate pertaining to whether or not a breast self exam is of any help. Critics argue that not every woman is able to conduct a proper breast exam and hence may not be able to find or detect a tumor, whether it is benign or malignant. Some critics also argue that a breast self exam often leads to misleading detection when lumps or other anomalies are thought of as tumors and these lead to unnecessary diagnoses and unwarranted preemptive treatments.
It is true that a breast self exam cannot be regarded as conclusive. It is also true that a doctor may be more capable of identifying or detecting tumors compared to an ordinary woman who is not fully familiar with different types of lumps or the specific anatomy of a breast. Despite such realities, it is necessary to consider a breast self exam, especially by and for women who are at risk of developing one or more types of cancer. Some cancers are genetic so women must be conscious if their parents or someone in the bloodline has had any type of cancer. Women, who have had breast cancer, usually in one breast, should be more proactively cautious as there is a likelihood of developing a cancerous tumor in the other breast, unless both breasts had been removed during mastectomy. It is indeed possible to detect a tumor at its early stages, benign or malignant, with the help of a breast self exam and timely action can be taken.
Important Notes for a Breast Self Exam
You should make breast exam a routine. You can do so once a month, especially after your period ends. Breasts can be tender and swollen during periods. You need firmer and normal breasts to facilitate accurate detection. One reason to have a routine is to be proactive so enough time does not pass between two self exams that can prove to be sufficient for a tumor to grow larger and the cancer to have metastasized. The other reason for you to maintain a regular routine is to be familiar with your own breast. Feeling the breast on the surface and inspecting the dermal layers and further inward requires practice. Familiarity is the key to detect anomalies.
You should document your findings every time you conduct a breast exam. Make notes and describe how every part of your breast feels. You do not have to use medical or biological terms. Just use a generic image of a breast and write down your observations next to specific areas or parts. It is easy to forget how your breast was and felt like the last time you had inspected it. If you feel lumps or other anomalies, you must describe them well. Not all lumps are indicative of tumor. Most women have one or more lumps on or in their breasts. Do not panic. Follow a routine, pay attention, document your observations and look for serious signs, such as a lump growing larger and lasting a few weeks or longer.
Five Easy Steps to Give Yourself a Breast Exam
- The first step is visual observation. Stand in front of a mirror. Make sure there is enough light for you to observe aberrations. Straighten your shoulders and place your arms on the hips. Be comfortable and do not unnecessarily stretch yourself, slouch, bend or lean. If your breasts appear usual, there is no change in size or shape and color, if the shape is even without any swelling or visible anomaly then you need not worry. If you find some bulging, puckering or dimpling, if there has been any change in the position of one or both nipples, perhaps they are sticking out or have been pushed inward, if there is some kind of swelling, rash or soreness and redness, then you should consult your doctor.
- The second step is the exact same process as the first one. The only difference is that you should raise your arms and conduct the breast self exam.
- The third step is to look for fluid in or around the nipples. You may find milky, watery or yellowish fluid in or around one or both the nipples. You may also spot a bit of blood. Consult your doctor immediately.
- Lay down on your bed or a comfortable place. Use the right hand and feel the left breast and vice versa. Join the index finger, middle finger and ring finger, like you would give yourself a massage, and move it smoothly but firmly over your breast in a circular motion. Don’t use larger circular motions. Feel both the breasts, in entirety from top to the bottom to all the sides, all the way from the collarbones to the upper abdomen, from the cleavage to the armpits. You should be able to feel a tumor if there is one.
- Sit or stand up and feel both your breasts. Use the same technique as in the fourth step.