Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women worldwide. In the United States, approximately 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer over the course of their lifetime. However, the good news is that breast cancer is highly treatable when detected early. This is why breast self-exams are so important – they are one of the simplest yet most effective ways to detect breast cancer at an early stage.
What is a Breast Self-Exam?
A breast self-exam (BSE) is a method for women to examine their breasts for any changes or abnormalities. This can be done once a month in the comfort of your own home, so you become familiar with your own breast tissue and can notice any changes quickly.
How to Perform a Self-Exam
When performing a BSE, it is important to examine the entire breast area, including the nipple and areola, as well as the armpit and collarbone area. This can be done in a few simple steps:
1. Look in the mirror and examine your breasts with your arms at your sides, raised above your head, and pressed against your hips.
2. Lie down on your back and place a pillow under your right shoulder. Use your left hand to feel for any lumps or bumps in your right breast. Use the pads of your fingers and move them in a circular motion around your breast, starting at the outside and moving inwards towards the nipple.
3. Use a firmer touch to feel your breast tissue just under the skin and a lighter touch to feel deeper in the breast tissue.
4. Repeat the above steps for your left breast.
5. Stand or sit up and use your right hand to feel for any lumps in your left breast using the same circular motion.
6. Repeat with your right hand for your right breast.
7. Check both armpits and collarbone area for any lumps or bumps as well.
Why are Breast Self-Exams Important?
Regular BSEs are crucial because they can help women become familiar with their breast tissue and identify any changes early on. Early detection is key because it increases the chances of a full recovery and reduces the need for more invasive and potentially harmful treatments. Breast cancers that are detected early have a 99% 5-year survival rate. In other words, the earlier breast cancer is detected, the higher the chance of survival.
While mammograms and clinical breast exams are also important, they are not always accessible or affordable for everyone. BSEs are a simple, free, and non-invasive way for women to stay on top of their breast health regularly.
If during your self-exam, you find a lump or bump or anything that feels different, book an appointment with your doctor right away. It may be nothing, but it is always better to be safe than sorry.
In conclusion, breast self-exams are a crucial tool in early detection and prevention of breast cancer. Every woman should perform regular self-exams and notify their doctor if they notice any changes. By taking a few minutes each month to examine your breast tissue, you could save your life.