Hmmm, this isn’t Friday Frock I hear you say… No, it’s not, it’s far more important in fact. This Friday I’m taking the opportunity to remind you to Be Breast Aware. What can I do as a Doctor to help some of you? I thought it might be useful to talk about self breast examination.
Let me start by saying I see probably 1 or 2 women a week who think they might have a found a lump, or sometimes just want to know how to properly examine their own breasts. Regardless of outcome, I always teach them how to self-examine because there’s nothing better you can do to help protect yourself against Breast Cancer than to be Breast Aware. As a Doctor, I can examine you and pick up what’s normal and what’s not, but you cannot underestimate how different breast tissue is from person to person so the best thing is to get to know your own boobs and then you know if there’s anything different.
As a rough guide, I tell women to self-examine once a month (often enough,) after their period, when the breast tissue is the least hormonally inflamed.
So here’s my DIY guide to Self Breast examination. Please do it. It might save your life.
1. First of all you’re looking for changes in how your boobs look, so stand in front of the mirror stripped off and have a good look. You’re checking for any changes in the skin like puckering or dimples. Check for any new inversion of the nipples (this can be normal for some people so don’t panic if yours are always like that, but get it checked if you’re worried.)
2. Next, still looking in the mirror, place your hands on your waist and squeeze whilst leaning slightly forwards. This tenses the underlying chest muscles and would accentuate any changes you could see within the skin that I described above, so just look over them again in this position.
3. Next, whilst standing, place your left hand over your head and rest it on the back of your neck or just below that. Put your right hand out in front of you with the palm and fingers flat and the fingers closed. Now use the flat part of your fingers to press your breast tissue in small circular movements. Work around the breast systematically, covering all the way from the edges to the nipple itself. It doesn’t matter if you work round in circles or up and down, as long as you do it all.
4. Breast tissue actually has a ‘tail’, by which I mean it extends all the way up across the chest into a point that ends in your arm pit to make sure you continue feeling all the way up your chest towards the arm pit and feel under your arms too.
5. Lastly gently squeeze the nipple to check for any discharge and repeat all steps of the examination on the other side.
You can repeat steps 3 and 4 whilst lying down for extra reassurance, if you want to.
Top Tip: I generally self examine in the shower, having a look in the bathroom mirror before I get in and then using the soapy-ness to allow the hand to slide around easily whilst checking for lumps.
Any GP will always be happy to go through these steps with you – you don’t have to have a lump to go to the doctors and make sure you’re doing it properly. And if you do have a lump, even if you’re not sure if you can feel something or not, we’ll always check it out for you and refer you for further tests if necessary. If you’re under 50 that often includes a (painless) ultrasound scan and sometimes a sample taken from the lump with a needle to check the cells under a microscope.
So ladies, it’s time to Cop a Feel (have you heard of the charity CoppaFeel?) and make sure you know your own boobs. If you have any questions, please just leave a comment and I can try to help where I can, but please remember, even this advice does not substitute a chat with your own GP and/or being examined if you are concerned about anything to do with your boobs.
Be Breast Aware!
PS. A huge thank you to Laura Manfre for providing the beautiful illustrations for this post at very short notice – head on over to her site to see her work and do get in touch if you have any custom projects you would like to talk to her about – I was blown away by these. 🙂
*This post was published as part of Breast Cancer Awareness month and #pinkfridays. It was Kirsty from A Safe Mooring who alerted me to the #pinkfridays and I was more than happy to oblige by taking part – I’ll let her tell you all about it…
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