October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, the aim is to increase awareness of this disease in an effort to mitigate its profligacy, as well as reduce the stigma and misinformation attached to this condition.

The first steps towards mitigating the onset of breast cancer include prevention and detection. As such, at present there seems to be no sure way of preventing breast cancer from occurring. Nonetheless, women should do their utmost to help increase the odds that if cancer does occur, it’s found and treated at an early stage, since the earlier it’s detected, the more it’s easily treated and cured.

The John Hopkins Medical Centre in Baltimore states that “forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important”. A breast self-exam is a way for each woman to check her own breasts for changes, such as lumps or irritation. Each person’s breasts are different, and may have diverse irregularities. Some people may have lumpy breasts, or one breast larger is than the other. It’s therefore important that when you check your breasts, take note of these personal idiosyncrasies in order for you not to be unduly alarmed.



How does one conduct a breast self-exam?

First of all, it’s suggested that such a self-exam is performed a few days after the start of menstruation, since breasts are not as tender or lumpy during this time of the monthly cycle. Remember to check them regularly once a month, always at the same time, in order to be aware of any variation. Your goal is to get used to the feel of your breasts as they normally are, in order to spot any changes.

Step #1: Start by standing naked in front of a mirror. Put your arms on your hips and straighten your shoulders. Do your breasts look any different? Is one higher than the other when it wasn’t before? Is there any visible swelling or puckering of the skin? Are your nipples their usual shape?



Step #2: Raise your left arm behind your head, and feel your left breast with the finger pads of your right hand. Keep the fingers flat and together. In a circular motion, touch your breast covering it entirely from top to bottom, and side to side. Don’t forget to feel under it, your collarbone, cleavage, and even your armpits. Do you feel any lumps you’re unfamiliar with? Now raise your right hand behind your head, and do the same thing for your other breast.



Step #3: Lie down and place a pillow or folded towel under your right shoulder. Put your right hand behind your head, and place your left hand on your right breast. Repeat Step 2 for both sides. Some lumps may be more apparent when in this position.



Step #4: Many women find it easier to conduct their breast self-exam in the shower. Check both breasts for any thickening, swelling, or hardened knots, using lotion or soap to facilitate the motion of your fingers. Use light, medium, and firm pressure, and don’t forget to check for discharge as well.



Remember; a breast self-exam is not enough. Mammography can detect tumours before they can be felt, so screening is very important. Self-checking your breasts regularly helps, in that you yourself learn to be more aware of any physical changes and know what’s normal for you. If you believe that you might have found a lump or another unjustified change, don’t panic. There could be many possible explanations for this. Immediately contact your doctor immediately for consultation.