October is observed around the world as breast cancer awareness month. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women today and one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in women in Cayman.
This might be a good time for women of all ages to get to know their breasts by performing a breast self exam. Unfortunately, many women hesitate to perform monthly self-examinations. While not every cancer can be found through the breast self-exam it is still an important part of your wellness care. Consider this, when breast cancer is detected early, chances of successful treatment dramatically increase.
When done on a consistent monthly basis, self examinations help women recognize the normal feel and look of their breasts. A good time to examine your breasts is several days after your period, when your breasts are no longer swollen or tender.
If you are no longer having periods, just pick a day that’s easy for you to remember, i.e. your birth date or the 1st or the 15th; whatever will help you to remember. It is recommended that by the age of 20, a woman should practice monthly breast self examination.
Breast self exams involve looking and feeling for change.
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.
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.
Doing a breast self examination is an acquired skill and, with practice, you will become more proficient at doing it.
For more information on how to do breast self examinations, 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 organized island-wide during the month of October by the Lions Club of Tropical Gardens.
Victoria Anderson is project coordinator of the Cayman Islands Cancer Society.