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How to perform breast self-examination 

Dr. Qurat Ul Ainn Hashmi

3 min read

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Breast self-examination is the key to early diagnosis and management of breast disease. A self-exam is the inspection of the breasts on your own, so you are able to pick any lump or changes as early as possible. Many women, not only in Pakistan, but the world over, are unable to treat their cancer, due to late diagnosis, and lose their lives. Breast self-examination makes early diagnosis a possibility, and successful treatment a reality. Moreover, a self-exam also screens for other breast diseases like cyst, tumors and infections.

If you notice any changes in your body, chances are there is nothing serious and only a benign cause behind, however, its best to get it checked.

Interestingly, many medical organizations do not recommend breast self-examination as part of the screening process any longer. Yet many healthcare providers and experts believe that these breast self-examinations help women become familiar enough with their breasts that they can promptly report any change in size or appearance. In fact, many women who report to cancer clinics, often come with a breast lump they discovered on their own. According to National Breast Cancer Foundation, 40% of diagnosed breast cancer cases were detected by women who performed regular breast self-examination. For this reason, doctors believe that it is a helpful tool in the diagnosis of breast cancer.

How to prepare for a breast self-examination?

The best way to learn about breast self-examination is to ask for a demonstration from your doctor. There is a ton of literature on breast self-examination and many helpful guides, however, discussing with a doctor can improve your technique and may be easier for you.

For menstruating women, it is most comfortable to choose a time in the cycle for breast self-examination when the breasts are least tender. Breast size changes according to hormonal changes as well, and the best time for exam is therefore when you feel you can comfortably complete the examination. Ideally, a week after the period ends is the best time, but you can choose as is suitable for you.

Breast self-examination must be done, at least once a month. Make it a routine so you don’t miss a month. The more you learn about your breasts, the easier it will be to pick any abnormality. You can also keep a journal to log in the findings of your self-exam, from month-to-month.

How to do breast self-examination?

In front of the mirror:

Undress, and stand in front of the mirror in a well-lit room. Look closely at your breasts with the arms relaxed by your side. If the breasts are not equal in size or shape, that’s normal, do not be alarmed by this. In this relaxed position, look for any skin changes, shape changes, or change in position. Be on a lookout for skin discoloration, dimpling, sores or puckering.

Also observe your nipples; check to see if there is any puckering, rash, redness, peeling, dimpling or sores. A nipple that is inverted or has changed position is not normal, and should be discussed with your doctor.

The next step is to observe the breasts with the chest muscles tightened. The way to do this is to place the hand on the hip and pressing down firmly. Once the chest muscles are tightened, look for change in the contours of the breast, or a change in their shape. This move helps the breasts to fall forward and makes any abnormality visible.

To check for any abnormality in the outer quadrant of the breasts, clasp your hand behind the head and press forward firmly. This will make the outer portions of the breasts more prominent, and you can observe the contours for anything abnormal looking. Looking at the breast from the side ways, while in this position is helpful, and you can also check for the border beneath the breasts using your other hand.

Lastly, examine the nipple for any discharge or skin changes. Use your thumb and forefinger to press on the area around the nipple and pull towards the nipple to check for any discharge.
You can perform the exam on one side first, followed by the other.

While lying down:

Examine one breast at a time. To do so, place a pillow or a folded towel beneath the side under exam, and place the hand of the same side behind your head. Now with the opposite hand start examining the upper portion of the breast in small circular motions; make sure your fingers are flat and together. Move from the 12 o’clock position, and complete the circle until you reach 12 again.
Once the upper portion is examined, move the hand an inch towards the nipple and complete this circle as well. Lastly, place the fingers flat on the nipple and feel beneath for any changes.

Repeat the steps for other breast. Make sure to include the examination of the armpit area in a similar manner, as this is the area where the lymphatics are involved in case of breast cancer.

If you have discovered a lump in your breast, or you would like to know more about your risk of getting breast cancer, then you can consult a top breast surgeon to aid you. Book an appointment with top breast surgeon in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad through oladoc.com, or call our helpline at 042-3890-0939 for assistance to find the RIGHT professional for your concerns.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are intended to raise awareness about common health issues and should not be viewed as sound medical advice for your specific condition. You should always consult with a licensed medical practitioner prior to following any suggestions outlined in this article or adopting any treatment protocol based on the contents of this article.

Dr. Qurat Ul Ainn Hashmi - Author Dr. Qurat Ul Ainn Hashmi is a Oncologist practicing in Multan. Dr. Qurat Ul Ainn Hashmi has the following degrees: MBBS, FCPS (Radio Therapy) and has 14 years of experience. Dr. Qurat Ul Ainn is a thorough professional and delivers quality work as is evident by the reviews that she has received form her patients. Her experience puts her as a good Oncologist to seek for cancer-related issues.
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