Breast Cancer Signs, Symptoms and Self-Checks

Knowing your body and breasts should be taught to all women from birth. This does not simply mean knowing your breast size or how they look, this also means knowing how they feel. The tissue differences, the nuances of each, and what is common or uncommon for you. Having regular breast checks, done by yourself and your doctors, can be the best line of defense in detecting and catching early breast cancer. Many women depend on their doctors to find, treat and diagnose their breast cancer when the truth is that they can be their own savior in performing regular self-breast checks.

Mammography is a useful tool in the discovery of cancer, but finding a small lump, bump or irregularity can often be first found in your own home, with your own hand. Any sort of breast lump can turn out to be cancer, but there are certain signs that can tend to signify that it is cancer. Finding a lump is the most common way that breast cancers are found. Lumps can come in all sorts of sizes and types. Painless hard masses with irregular or non-symmetrical edges or tender, soft, rounded and moveable masses could all be cancer. Therefore, upon detection of any new lump, you should touch base with your doctor.

There are other symptoms of breast cancer, and they are:

  • Nipple retraction. Nipple retraction is the inward turning of the nipple.
  • Redness, scaly, or thickening of the nipple tissue or breast skin
  • Nipple discharge of any color; other than breast milk
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Skin irritation and dimpling in certain areas, or all around
  • Skin sores anywhere on the breast
  • New shape or sudden size change of the breast
  • Growing or enlarging veins on the breast
  • Hard, unmovable lump in the breast
  • Swelling of any part of the breast, even if no lumps are present; unless breastfeeding

Breast cancer does have the capability to spread into neighboring lymph nodes and other areas of the body. For this reason, it is most important to report any changes or abnormalities quickly. Doing a self-breast exam is not difficult and can be done in the shower or in a quiet moment to yourself. Or, if you are not comfortable in doing it, consider having your partner do it for you. There are many cases of diagnosed breast cancer where the partner was the person who felt the lump during intimate time.

The Breast Self-Exam

According to most doctors, women should begin self-breast exams in their late teens, so the routine and knowledge carry over in their older years. There are three places that work the best for completing your breast self-exam.

The first and most common way is in the shower. Using only the pads of your first two fingers, gently move around the entire breast in a circular pattern; moving from the outside to the center on each pass. Check the entire breast and armpit area for any irregularities.

The second method is standing in front of a mirror. This method is best for those still getting to know their breasts, as you can fully see all of the outer characteristics while you do your self-exam. Check your breasts with your arms at your sides and note any difference. Now, raise your arms high above your head and note any changes, dimpling of the skin, swelling, contour or other abnormalities. Now place your palms on your hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles. Watch for any dimpling, puckering, or changes, especially if the changes only happen on one side.

The third method is doing your self-exam while laying down. Lying down helps with the exam because it allows the breast tissue to spread out evenly on the chest wall. To begin, put a pillow under your left shoulder and your left arm behind your head. Using your right hand and the first two finger-pads, move your fingers around your left breast, from the outside to the center, and the armpit. Repeat this procedure for your right breast by switching the pillow sides and raising your right arm.

Complete any of these methods using carrying pressures: light, medium, and firm. After each exam, take a moment to squeeze the nipple to check for discharge and lumps. If at any time you find an abnormality or something feels off, do not hesitate to contact your primary care physician and schedule the proper testing to determine what is causing you the trouble. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

Resources Used:

World Wide Breast Cancer .org

Johns Hopkins

Reclaiming Intimacy

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