October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, an annual event to raise awareness among the populace about the impact of this complex carcinoma. This health event is called "Pink October" as people across the globe adopt the pink colour and display pink ribbons to highlight the importance of prevention and regular screening for the early diagnosis of breast cancer. During this annual campaign, various non-government associations, people, and communities from across the globe work together to create awareness and render their support to millions of people affected by breast cancer.
Also Read: World Breast Cancer Month: Debunking 5 Common Breast Cancer Myths
What Is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is the growth of malignant or cancerous cells in one or both breasts. Most breast cancers develop in the lining cells of ducts (85%) or in the lobules (15%) in the breast's glandular tissue.
In the starting stage, the cancerous growth is most likely confined to the duct or lobule ("in situ"), where it typically doesn't present with any symptoms and has fewer chances of metastasizing or spreading to other body parts, including lymph nodes.
But over time, in situ (0 stages) cancers may progress and spread to surrounding breast tissue (invasive breast cancer) and then to the nearby lymph nodes (regional metastasis) or other organs in the body (distant metastasis). Breast cancer treatment can be highly effective, mainly when the condition is detected early. The prompt and proper treatment can avert cancer growth and spread, thus saving lives.
According to the World Health Organization reports, in 2020, there were 2.3 million women newly diagnosed with breast cancer and 685000 mortalities worldwide. Also, as of today, 7.8 million women worldwide survived breast cancer after diagnosis and treatment, and it, unfortunately, is the world's most prevalent type of cancer. Breast cancer can affect women after puberty, but the risk increases as they grow older. This year's theme is "RISE, "which ensures every woman the access to the screening she needs and the support she deserves.
A straightforward way to be aware of breast cancer is self-examination. Listen to your body, be vigilant and make self-examination a part of your breast cancer screening strategy to detect cancer early and save lives.
Breast Self-Exam (BSE)
Breast self-exam or regularly examining your breast is a vital tool to find breast cancer early, which is more likely to be treated effectively. No single test can identify all breast cancers early; experts strongly suggest that performing breast self-exam and other screening techniques can improve the odds of prompt detection.
Breast self-examination is a valuable and vital screening tool, mainly when combined with regular physical evaluation by a healthcare provider, mammography, and in a few cases, ultrasound or MRI. Each screening technique works in varied ways and has specific merits and demerits. Breast self-exam is a convenient, no-cost tool used regularly and at any age. Medical experts recommend that all women routinely perform breast self-exam as part of their overall breast cancer screening approach.
How To Do Breast Self-Exam?
This is a five-step process that includes:
Stand in front of the mirror with shoulders up front and arms on your hips.
Then look for:
- Breasts that are usual in size, shape, and colour
- Breasts that are evenly shaped without any visible swelling or alteration
If you observe any of the following changes, then immediately inform your physician:
- Dimpling, wrinkling, or bulging of the breast skin
- A nipple that has altered position or an inverted nipple
- Redness, soreness, rash, or swelling
Now, lift your arms and look for the same changes
Look for any signs of fluid or secretions coming out of one or both nipples (that may be watery, milky, or yellow fluid or blood)
The next step is to feel the breasts while lying down in a supine position. Use your right hand to test your left breast and examine the right breast with your left hand. With a firm, smooth touch, use the first few finger pads of your hand while keeping the fingers flat and then together in a circular motion, around the size of a quarter.
The next step is to cover the whole breast from top to bottom, side to side – from collarbone to the top of your abdomen and armpit to your cleavage.
Follow a fixed pattern to ensure that you cover the entire breast. You can start from the nipple, moving in larger and larger circles until you reach the outer edge of the breast while moving your fingers up and down vertically in rows. Make sure to feel all the tissue from the front to the back of the breasts; for the skin beneath, use light pressure, medium pressure for tissue in the middle, and apply firm pressure to feel lumps in deep tissue in the back. If you feel the ribcage, it means you have reached the deep tissue.
Finally, feel your breasts either standing or sitting, and most women find the simplest way to feel their breast is when the skin is wet and slippery. So, women most likely perform these steps while taking a shower, covering the complete breast, and using the same hand movements as suggested in the previous step.
What To Do If You Find A Lump In Your Breast?
Don't panic. Most women have some lumpy regions in their breasts, and most breast lumps turn out to be benign (non-cancerous). There are several possible causes for non-cancerous breast lumps, such as hormonal changes, benign breast problems, or an injury.
Never hesitate to inform your doctor if you have noticed a lump or any other breast change that is new and bothersome. This is mainly true for any changes that last more than one complete menstrual cycle or get more extensive or more prominent. Women who menstruate can wait until after their menstrual cycle to see if the lump or other breast change disappears on its own before consulting with the doctor.
Self-Examination Strategies For Breast Care?
Make It A Routine
Make it routine to examine your breasts once a month to familiarize yourself with how your breasts usually look and feel. Examine breasts several days after the menstrual cycle ends, when your breasts are less likely to be swollen and tender. Post-menopause women should choose a day that is easy to remember, such as the first or last day of the month.
Know Your Breasts
It is essential to know the physiology of your breasts – the upper, outer region-near, the armpit-tends to have the most visible lumps and bumps, while the lower half of the breast can feel sandy. The region under the nipple can feel like a group of large grains.
Maintain A Journal
Have a journal and record the finding of your breast self-exams, such as descriptions of where you feel lumps or abnormalities. This may be beneficial in the beginning to help you remember, from month to month, what is normal for your breasts.