Did you know that a whopping one in seven Aussie women risk being diagnosed with breast cancer over their lifetime – and yet many women still don’t perform their monthly self-examinations?
You should be checking your breasts once a month – around the time of your menstrual cycle if you still have one – to be alert to any changes in your breast tissue.
And there is good reason for that, with early detection often resulting in much better survival outcomes. For example, the five-year survival rate for Stage 1 breast cancer averages 100 percent, while the survival rate for Stage 2 is 95 percent – so those monthly boob exams are definitely worth it.
As the second-most diagnosed cancer in Australia – with about 57 diagnoses a day – those monthly boob examinations are responsible for picking up about 40 percent of them, thanks to women detecting a lump or something else unusual worth exploring.
Here’s what to look for once a month
Adult women of all ages are encouraged to be breast aware – performing a self-examination about the same time each month to build up knowledge of how your breasts should look and feel.
It’s also important to be comfortable discussing breast health … and to start informed conversations around friends and loved ones.
While becoming familiar with how your breasts look and feel, here’s some of the things you need to look out for:
The 8 warning signs of breast cancer
- A new lump in your armpit or breast
- Swelling or any thickening of the breast
- Dimpling or irritation of the skin on your breast
- Irritated or dry, flaky skin on or around the nipple
- Pain or pulling in of your nipple
- Nipple discharge that is not breast milk
- Any changes in size or shape
- Breast pain.
How to do your monthly breast exam at home
It only takes a few minutes each month, but if you perform your self-examination in three parts as described here, you’re guaranteed to quickly become familiar with how your breasts should look and feel.
Start in the shower: With the pads/flats of your 3 middle fingers, check the entire breast and armpit area, pressing down with light, medium and firm pressure. Check both breasts each month, feeling for any lumps, thickening, hardened knots, or any other breast changes.
Get in front of a mirror: Visually inspect your breasts with your arms at your sides. Next, raise your arms high overhead.
Look for any changes in the contour, any swelling, or dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples. Next, rest your palms on your hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles. Left and right breasts will not exactly match—few women’s breasts do, so look for any dimpling, puckering, or changes, particularly on one side.
Now do it lying down: Your breast tissue spreads out evenly along the chest wall when you’re lying down. Place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your right breast, gently moving over the entire breast area and armpit.
Use light, medium and firm pressure. Squeeze the nipple; check for discharge and lumps. Repeat these steps for your left breast.
Can I Rely On Breast Self-Exams Alone To Be Sure I Am Breast Cancer Free?
The risk of breast cancer increases in age – and BreastScreen WA provides free screening mammograms to WA women 40 years or over with no breast symptoms every two years.
Mammograms can detect tumors before they can be felt, so screening is key for early detection. But when combined with regular medical care and appropriate guideline-recommended mammography, breast self-exams can help women know what is normal for them so they can report any changes to their healthcare provider.
If you find a lump, schedule an appointment with your doctor, but don’t panic — eight out of 10 lumps are not cancerous. For additional peace of mind, call your doctor whenever you have concerns.
Get in touch with us!
If you are concerned about changes in your breast or just want to discuss something that we’ve covered in this blog, then please make an appointment with your friendly women’s health team at South Coastal Health and Community Services.
Please call (08) 9550 0900 to make an appointment. We’re at 4 Civic Boulevard, Rockingham.