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Breast Self Exam

Know the signs: How to check for breast cancer at home

Are you breast aware?

Despite huge leaps in medicine and technology, every day nearly 50 Australians receive a life-altering breast cancer diagnosis. Not surprisingly, breast cancer is among the most prevalent cancers for women, both in Australia and around the world. Incidence rates are on the rise, but thanks to medical research and expanded treatment options, 89 out of every 100 women diagnosed will now survive five or more years after diagnosis.

We’re not out of the woods, though. Unfortunately, even with the best intentions, breast cancer cannot always be prevented. And because we know that early detection increases the chances of a successful treatment response, becoming breast aware is essential. Being proactive and providing some personal security through life insurance such as trauma cover, or making a pointed effort to perform regular breast checks can be a good start and good initial line of defense.

Breast self-examinations (BSEs)

Did you know that 20% of breast cancers are found through self-examination?

A breast self-examination, or BSE, is precisely what it sounds like: a breast check you can do from the comforts of your home. BSEs can be an effective way to identify early signs and symptoms of breast cancer, and works best in conjunction with regular health checks and mammograms.

Although most women are first diagnosed with breast cancer around age 60, it’s never too early to start taking stock of your body. By familiarising yourself with what your breast “normal” looks and feels like for you, you’re in a better position to pinpoint when something isn’t quite right.

How to check for breast cancer

To get yourself in the habit of checking for breast lumps and other abnormalities, aim for at least one breast self-check per month.

A proper BSE happens in three stages: in front of a mirror, lying down, and standing or sitting upright (often in the shower). If at any point you notice a lump, it’s important to stay calm. Lumps don’t always mean breast cancer, in fact, many women have naturally lumpy breasts, and many others find their breasts change over the course of their menstrual cycle. Jot your findings down in a journal and keep a close watch over the course of a few weeks; if symptoms persist or start to worsen, book in with your doctor for a full medical assessment.

1. In front of the mirror

Here, the primary focus is on the physical appearance of your breasts. You’ll execute this phase in two steps: first, by standing with your shoulders straight and your arms firmly pressed on your hips to flex your chest muscles. Next, you’ll stand tall with your arms raised above your head.

Keep an eye out for these typical signs of breast cancer:

  • Dimples, puckers, or bulges
  • Inverted nipples
  • Watery, milky, or bloody fluid emissions
  • Rash or redness
  • Soreness
  • Swelling
  • Other unusual changes in contour or shape

2. Lying down        

Next, head to your bed or other flat surface. When you lay flat, your breasts do the same against your chest wall. Position yourself with a pillow under your shoulder, place your arm behind your neck, and feel the entirety of your breast with the pads of the pointer and middle fingers on your opposite hand. 

Using a firm touch and a circular motion, cover your breast from top to bottom and side to side. Use a pattern that makes the most sense to you: you might try working outwards from your nipple, or sweeping your breast in a series of vertical rows, feeling for lumps or knots as you go. 

3. Standing or sitting

Finally, step into the shower, as you might find this easier to do when your skin is wet and slippery, and repeat the same circular motion whilst standing or sitting. Note that the level of pressure you use will vary based on where you’re feeling. Some guidelines:

  • Apply light pressure for skin and tissue just beneath your breasts
  • Apply medium pressure for tissue in the middle of your breasts
  • Apply firm pressure for deep tissue in the back of your breasts

In the spirit of awareness, we encourage you to share this simple three-stage strategy with your family, coworkers, acquaintances, and--of course--your very breast friends!

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