According to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, detecting and treating breast cancer early increases “the opportunity for a successful outcome.”
That’s why taking an active role in your personal breast health is important.
It took watching my friends’ experiences with breast cancer that finally prompted me to take control over my own health. I’d had mammograms, but skipped self-exams because, in all honesty, I was afraid of finding a lump.
But once the first of my friends was diagnosed with breast cancer it seemed that everyone around me just keeping receiving the same news – one friend after another, including my cousin.
That’s when I knew I had to get over myself and do a full BSE – Breast Self Examination.
About 68 Canadian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer today. The number will climb to over 481 in a week, and a staggering 25,000 for the year. I didn’t want to become a statistic, so I started reading up on cancer signs and symptoms and here’s what I learned:
The signs that something’s amiss
From an early age, women and men should be familiar with the appearance and feel of their breasts.
Some women notice changes as soon as they happen. They can be visually obvious signs like dimpling, puckering or a bulge in the skin.
Nipples that have changed position on the breast or have suddenly inverted when they’ve always protruded are also abnormal signs.
Breasts that develop a sudden redness, rash, swelling or soreness also means a visit to your doctor is in order.
But often there are no signs at all – and that’s the scary reality about breast cancer and why self-exams are so important.
Get a feel for things
After a visual check, I moved on to teaching myself how to do the actual self exam. Years ago my doctor gave me a laminated card that I could hang in the shower that showed how to do a complete step-by-step exam. I wish I still had it.
I had an upcoming appointment with my doctor anyway, and I made a mental note to ask if she’d be able to talk me through a self-exam while I asked questions.
I learned that some women have naturally dense, lumpy, breasts, and I asked my doctor how to tell the difference between a normal lump and a cancerous one.
She told me that lumpy breasts have symmetrical terrain, which means that what you feel on one side you should feel on the other. If you encounter something on one side that’s not mirrored on the other side, then get checked out.
Other good-to-know info
The BSE should be done early in your menstrual cycle when your breasts are less lumpy.
Draw your breasts on a piece of paper and plot out any lumps. Consult the map every month and compare. Note any changes on the map as well.
Your BSE should be done once a month, even if you get an annual check-up from your doctor. Some tumours grow quickly, and the earlier a cancerous lump is detected, the better the chance of survival.
But don’t assume all lumps are cancer! You might find a cyst, which is just a fluid-filled pocket located in breast tissue, so don’t be alarmed until you know exactly what kind of lump it is.
Finally, don’t skip your mammogram. In particular, women aged 40 – 49 should consult their doctors to determine frequency, while women aged 50 to 74 should have one every two years
If at any time you detect anything suspicious or notice major changes, make an appointment to see your doctor.
Here’s a link to the exact shower card I had.