Breast self-examinations

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women worldwide and one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in women in Cayman.

Breast health starts with knowing your breasts and, while there is no evidence to suggest that monthly breast self exam has reduced the numbers of deaths from breast cancer, it does, when done on a consistent monthly basis, help women recognise the normal feel and look of their breasts.

It is recommended that by the age of 20, a woman should practise monthly breast self examination.

Self-examination encourages women to be proactive about their health. It is relatively quick, it can be done wherever you are and it is something every woman can do regardless of her income level or insurance coverage. It takes 10-15 minutes a month and it can save your life.

The disadvantages of breast self-examinations are that women may worry if they think they have found a lump and they may incur extra doctor visits.

Breast examination involves looking and feeling for changes. Looking for change should be done standing in front of a mirror with your hands on your hips and again with your hands raised above your head.

You should look for: changes in the size or shape of your breast – be sure that there is no visible distortion or swelling; breast discolouration including redness, pinkness or a ‘bruise’ that does not go away; changes in the appearance or texture of the skin; changes in the position of the nipple including a change in direction in which it points; and/or a rash.

Feeling for change is best done standing in the shower and again lying on the bed after a shower. You should use your right hand to check your left breast and your left hand to check your right breast.

You use all of your fingers except for your thumb and little finger. You want to use the tops of the fingers, keeping them flat and together. There are several different ways to feel for abnormalities including a circular method where you apply pressure and cover the entire breast using gradually decreasing circles.

You should repeat this two to three times on each breast to be certain you cover the entire breast using increasing pressure each time as lumps may be hidden deep within the breast tissue.

You are feeling for a lump in the breast or a lump or thickening of the surrounding area including under the armpit, the tissue up to the collarbone and as far down as the top of the rib cage.

You should also gently squeeze your nipple to ensure that there is no nipple discharge that is not associated with breast-feeding.

Breast self-examination is an acquired skill and with practice, you will become more proficient at doing it.

For more information, talk with your doctor or contact the Cayman Islands Cancer Society at 949-7618. Alternatively, you can attend a district awareness clinic or evening meeting organised island-wide during the month of October by the Lions Club of Tropical Gardens.