Breast cancer occurs when cancer cells form in the tissue of the breast. There are many different types -- and the disease can differ by individual, age group and the tumors themselves. Women should be aware what is and what isn't normal as far as their breasts are concerned and should call their doctor if they feel a lump, mass, or hardening of the tissue. This type of cancer is not exclusively a women's disease though they are the largest group with 200,000 diagnosed each year. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation - 1,700 men will be diagnosed each year and 450 will die from the disease.
When detected early enough, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer is 98%. Advances in detection and treatments have made this possible. This is why it is so important that women do monthly breast self-examinations (BSE) starting at age 20. BSEs are a self-inspection of one's breasts using hands to feel for lumps or hardened tissue -- and eyes to see if there appear to be any visual changes. Mammograms are the most effective tool in catching breast cancer early but it is important for women to be familiar with what is normal for them and their breasts so they can note any changes. Also according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, if you do find a lump there is no need to panic because 8-10 lumps found are not cancerous -- but you definitely want to get it check out by your doctor.
According to BreastCancer.org there are 5 steps to performing a BSE:
Step 1: Begin by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips.
Here's what you should look for:
- Breasts that are their usual size, shape, and color
- Breasts that are evenly shaped without visible distortion or swelling
If you see any of the following changes, bring them to your doctor's attention:
- Dimpling, puckering, or bulging of the skin
- A nipple that has changed position or an inverted nipple (pushed inward instead of sticking out)
- Redness, soreness, rash, or swelling
Step 2: Now, raise your arms and look for the same changes.
Step 3: While you're at the mirror, look for any signs of fluid coming out of one or both nipples (this could be a watery, milky, or yellow fluid or blood).
Step 4: Next, feel your breasts while lying down, using your right hand to feel your left breast and then your left hand to feel your right breast. Use a firm, smooth touch with the first few finger pads of your hand, keeping the fingers flat and together. Use a circular motion, about the size of a quarter.
Cover the entire breast from top to bottom, side to side — from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen, and from your armpit to your cleavage.
Follow a pattern to be sure that you cover the whole breast. You can begin at the nipple, moving in larger and larger circles until you reach the outer edge of the breast. You can also move your fingers up and down vertically, in rows, as if you were mowing a lawn. This up-and-down approach seems to work best for most women. Be sure to feel all the tissue from the front to the back of your breasts: for the skin and tissue just beneath, use light pressure; use medium pressure for tissue in the middle of your breasts; use firm pressure for the deep tissue in the back. When you've reached the deep tissue, you should be able to feel down to your ribcage.
Step 5: Finally, feel your breasts while you are standing or sitting. Many women find that the easiest way to feel their breasts is when their skin is wet and slippery, so they like to do this step in the shower. Cover your entire breast, using the same hand movements described in Step 4.
If you have any other questions or still aren't exactly sure how you should do a breast self-exam talk to your doctor.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month it is important to spread the word about early detection, prevention and treatments. It is also a great time to donate to any causes dedicated to finding a cure for this disease.