Breast cancer, though one of the most treatable forms of the disease if caught early, is one of the biggest women’s health concerns in India and the world. According to the Indian National Health Portal, it’s the most common cancer among women in India with at least a 14% prevalence.
Knowing what’s normal and what’s not
Early detection plays a huge role in the prevention of this disease, as a study in Sensors in 2017 points out, especially where reducing breast cancer-related deaths is concerned. The study explains how there are techniques like mammography, ultrasounds, computerized tomography and biopsy available, but they are not cheap or easily accessible for young women who have a high risk (like the breast cancer genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2).
Increased awareness about breast cancer is therefore very important so that women can recognise early warning signs of breast cancer and consult a doctor about getting further screenings done. Knowing what your breasts look and feel like normally, the American Cancer Society insists, is the first step of being able to detect any changes.
How to do a regular breast self-exam
Doing a regular breast self-exam is the next step of understanding your normal breast condition and recognising early signs of cancer in case they appear. You can do a breast self-exam in the privacy of your home with the following steps:
Step 1: Look at your breasts in the mirror for colour changes, uneven shapes, dimples, puckering, bulging, redness, rashes, swelling on the breasts and armpits. Check if the nipples look different and/or are inverted instead of sticking out.
Step 2: Raise your arms above your head and look for the same changes in your breasts.
Step 3: Check the nipples for any type of physical abnormalities. Also check for watery, milky, yellow or bloody fluid discharge from both nipples.
Step 4: Raise one arm and use the fingers of the other hand to check for any changes, especially hard protrusions, lumps, etc. Put the arm down, raise the other arm and repeat on that side.
Step 5: Lie on your back, raise one arm and use the other hand to check the entire breast and armpit area for any changes like protrusions, lumps, etc. Put the arm down, raise the other arm and repeat on that side.
Warning signs to look out for
Conduct a breast self-exam at least once every month, and consult a doctor without any delays if you observe any of the following early signs of breast cancer:
- New lumps in the breasts or armpits
- Pain in the breasts or nipples
- Thickness or swelling on a part of your breasts
- Dimpling of the skin, especially if it looks like the outer surface of an orange peel
- Nipple retraction or inversion
- Red, dry or flaking breast skin
- Nipple discharge that’s watery, milky or bloody (especially if you’re not pregnant or breastfeeding)
- Swollen lymph nodes under the arms, armpits, collar bone or other areas near the breasts
For more information, read our article on Breast Cancer.
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