Breast cancer is a global health concern, as it is the second most common cause of death in women (first is heart conditions). With a high prevalence both in developed and developing countries, the need to find better diagnostic techniques and treatment are essential. One of the most accessible tools for early diagnosis of breast cancer is Breast Self Examination (BSE). Continue reading in order to find out how to correctly examine your breast.
As breast cancer concerns a majority of the female population and the male one as well (1%), research is continuously done. Studies have shown that in developing nations this disease is diagnosed in advanced stages, as opposed to developed countries. Therefore a higher mortality rate is seen in the former.
In the last 20 years, the occurence of breast cancer has risen by 50-100 %. This form of cancer differs from other types by the localization of the tumor, meaning that it can be easily noticed.. Thus, the chances of early detection and treatment are higher. .
Breast cancer consequences can be ameliorated and reduced with early screening programs such as mammography, clinical breast examination (CBE- exam conducted by a physician) and breast self examination (BSE). Unfortunately, none of these methods are 100% reliable and secure, as it can also result in false positive diagnoses and overdiagnosis.
In developing countries, the access to mammograms and even to clinical breast exams is difficult. For this reason, women have to rely on other measures, such as breast self examination. This technique is easy to adopt, as it is simple, inexpensive and does not harm the body.
Breast self examination (BSE)
Through BSE, women can familiarize themselves with the appearance and sensation of their breast. Hereby, they can detect possible abnormalities, which could be linked to breast cancer, at an early stage. Studies have shown that using this method encourages people to take ownership of their health, to adopt preventive health behaviours and increases awareness about breast cancer. One study conducted with 1500 breast cancer patients showed that 81% of women first noticed symptoms by themselves.
It is recommended that women from the age of 20 years onwards do a monthly breast self examination. In the case of women in their fertile years (with menstruation), the examination should be performed on the second or third day after menstruation starts. Pregnant women and post menopause women should examine themselves on the same day each month.
BSE consists of a visual and palpatory (feeling with hands) examination.
The woman has to stand in front of a mirror and adopt the following positions:
With arms along the body
With arms raised
With arms clutched behind the head
With arms on hips
Source: Marszałek, A., & Walaszek, R. (2015)
During all of these positions, the woman has to examine the following characteristics
The shape and symmetry of breasts and niples
Skin changes: color, skin wounds, spreading of breast veins, swelling
Retraction of the nipples
Secretion from the nipples
Presence of lumps
This examination is done in a sitting or lying position, by pressing the breast with two fingers kept together. The movement has to be circular, while patting the area with your fingers.
The right breast has to be examined in a clockwise direction, while the left one counter clockwise.
In order to feel different textures and leves of the tissue, varied pressure can be applied. By this, tender spots or lumps can be identified.
Below you can see types of movements that cover the entire breast area.
Source: Marszałek, A., & Walaszek, R. (2015)
Challenges regarding BSE
Even though BSE is an easy method to try for early detection of breast cancer, many women encounter several struggles:
Lack of time
Fear of possible detection of a mass (a part of skin that feels hard/ possible tumor)
Being uncomfortable touching own breasts
Anxiety and forgetting to do it
Challenges that come with breast cancer
Lack of motivation
All of the studies conducted emphasize the importance of providing a suitable public health education program that talks about the practice of breast self examination among women. The misconceptions and myths related to breast cancer can hereby be minimized.
If you find something unusual regarding your breasts or their texture contact your doctor. Sometimes, these changes can have other causes as well, so do not panic.
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