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World Cancer Day - How to do a breast self-examination to check for cancer

You are your best judge, keep a track of the changes in your body with this simple breast self exam.

Written by Pavitra Sampath |Updated : February 3, 2017 2:47 PM IST

Breast cancer

Breast cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer amongst women these days. Doctors believe that the earlier the cancer is detected the better the prognosis and lesser the intensity of the treatment. While regular mammographies are essential for all women above the age of 35, many don't have the time to get one or are scared of the pain involved, not to mention the fact that they have to be exposed during the procedure. A breast self exam is the next best thing. It is definitely not a substitute but is a better way to gauge the presence of a lump in the breast that might need further investigation.

What is a breast self exam?

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Self-examination of breast involves feeling the breast for lumps or other abnormalities and noting any changes in their appearance while standing, lying in different positions and while looking at your breasts in a mirror.

Read more about causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.

How do you do it?

The National Breast Cancer Foundation recommends that all women over the age of 20 should perform this test once every month. You should remember that while doing these tests you should use light to medium pressure and not press too hard as it could lead to a lot of discomfort. Also, avoid doing this test during your periods as your breasts will tend to be much more sensitive during this time.

Breast self exam Step 1: Standing

This part of the examination can be performed in your room or in the shower. Raise your arm over your head, so as to expose your armpits. Now, use the pads of your fingers to feel around the breast (from the outer area to the inner area) in a circular motion. Make sure not to miss out the part under the armpits. You should be looking for any lump, thickening or hardened knot. If you do find one, visit your doctor for a more thorough examination.

Breast self exam Step 2: In front of the mirror

In this test, stand in front of the mirror with your arms by your sides. Check your breast for any changes in their contour, dimpling of the skin or changes in the shape and structure of your nipples. Raise your arms above your head and check for the same.

Next place your hands on your hips and press down firmly to flex your chest muscles. Yes, there are muscles there! Now check for any changes in the shape, size, changes in skin colour or dimpling. Since, in most women the left and the right breasts are not identical check each breast individually.

Breast self exam Step 3: Lying down

Lie down and place a pillow under one of your shoulders. Now raise the arm of that side and check the breast with the other hand. Use the pad of your fingers and look for any lumps, thickening or hardened masses around your breasts and under your arm pits.

For the other breast, change the position of your pillow so it is below the breast. Check and repeat the process. As a final step press your nipples to check for any discharge or lumps.

Breast cancer can be a scary prospect, but keeping a tab on the changes in your body and simply following the above mentioned steps, you can stay healthy and keep cancer at bay.

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