While breast cancer continues to affect 1 in 8 women in high income countries1, with a total of 2.3 million women diagnosed with breast cancer globally in 20202, the chances of finding yourself on the wrong side of these statistics rise with age and other risk factors3.
However, mortality rates from breast cancer have started to decrease since the 1980s, with the development of early detection programmes and their implementation by health organizations around the world2. In recent years we see less fatal incidents of breast cancer, which is mainly attributed to early detection4.
Your breast health routine – the importance of self-exam
Building a routine around your breast health is highly recommended for early detection. You should follow your local health organization recommendations, which are likely to combine self-exam and screening tests based on your health profile and age.
Being familiarized with your breast ‘normal’, can help you detect any changes, and alert your healthcare professional, earlier. Adult women of all ages are encouraged to perform breast self-exams at least once a month. As many as 40% of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important5.
When you self-examine your breasts – what are the signs you should look out for6?
- Any swelling of all or a part of the breast
- Skin irritation or dimpling
- Breast pain (not related to the menstrual cycle)
- Nipple pain or the nipple turning inward
- Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
- A nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
- A lump in the underarm area
How to self-examine when you have breast implants7, 8?
It is very important that women with implants are thoroughly informed on how to perform self-exam with implants and how to differentiate between the feel of the implant and the surrounding tissue.
While the breast implant provides a firmer surface to feel the breast tissue against, it is also important to gently feel around the breast implant perimeter until you feel the ribs behind it.
Always consult your healthcare professional
If you have detected any of the early signs mentioned above, it is extremely important that you consult your healthcare professional as soon as you are able to.
If you have breast implants – it is recommended to visit your surgeon and check your breasts and implants at least annually.
How to best remember the principles of self-exam? “TLC” - touch, look, check9
- Touch: examine your breasts while standing or lying down
- Look: see if you can notice anything unusual, such as a bump or change in colour.
- Check: if you notice anything unusual, contact your doctor immediately
1 Britt, K.L., Cuzick, J. & Phillips, KA. Key steps for effective breast cancer prevention. Nat Rev Cancer 20, 417–436 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41568-020-0266-x
4 Merino Bonilla JA, Torres Tabanera M, Ros Mendoza LH. Breast cancer in the 21st century: From early detection to new therapies Radiología. 2017;59:368–379. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rxeng.2017.08.001