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How To Examine Your Breast For Cancer

Unusual Changes To Look For

Learn how to examine your breast for cancer the proper way

Consider how your breasts normally look and feel, Piatek says. We want women to look at themselves in the mirror at least once a month and look at their breasts.

While looking in the mirror, zero in on any changes in the size or shape or either breast and look for any changes that may have occurred in the appearance of the skin on your breasts.

For example, is there a rash or redness thats not going away or is there any skin thickening, Piatek says. If you lift your arms up, is there any dimpling of your breast tissue, swelling around your collarbone or under your arm?

Ultimately, the goal is to build awareness without adding additional stress, says Deanna J. Attai, MD, associate clinical professor in the department of surgery at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine in Los Angeles and UCLA Health Burbank Breast Care.

I tell patients now that we no longer scold you for not doing monthly self-exams anymore, Dr. Attai says. We want women to have a general idea of whats normal for them and to be aware that breast cancer doesnt always present as a lump. It can be a sudden swelling, a redness of the skin that doesnt go away with antibiotics, blood from the nipple or a retraction or dimpling that can be a potential sign of an underlying cancer.

Basic Facts About Breast Health: Breast Self Exams

All women should check their breasts for lumps, thicknesses and other changes every month. By examining your breasts regularly, you will know how your breasts normally feel. If a change should happen in your breasts, you will be able to identify it and let your doctor know.

  • Check your breasts about one week after your period. Checking your breasts in the shower can be a convenient way to get the self exam into your routine.
  • Press firmly with the pads of your fingers. Move your left hand over your right breast in a circle. Make sure to check all over and include the armpit.
  • Now check your left breast with your right hand in the same way.
  • You also should look at your breasts in a mirror. Look for any changes in how your breasts look.

If you find any lumps, thickenings or changes, tell your doctor right away. Most breast lumps are not cancer, but you don’t know if you don’t ask. Breast cancer may be successfully treated if you find it early.

This information was contributed by the American Cancer Society . For more information visit the the ACS website.

The American Cancer Society believes the use of mammography, clinical breast examination and breast self-examination offers women the best opportunity for reducing the breast cancer death rate through early detection. This combined approach is clearly better than any one examination. The American Cancer Society does not recommend relying solely on any of these methods.

Lymph Nodes Breast Cancer And Covid

It is worth noting that breast cancer is not the only reason for lymph node swelling under the arm. The lymph nodes play a role in the bodys immune response, and swelling can occur as they fight unwanted intruders, such as infections.

The lymph nodes under the arm can also swell in response to a vaccine, such as the COVID-19 vaccine. This could contribute to a false diagnosis of breast cancer. For this reason, experts suggest scheduling any routine mammograms at least 46 weeks after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

However, if a person has concerns about possible symptoms of breast cancer, they should not hesitate to contact a doctor. They should also not delay having a COVID-19 vaccine. This is because if cancer is present, they may benefit from the extra protection a vaccine offers. recommends checking the breasts once per month at the same time each month.

Before menopause, it is best to do the self-exam a few days after menstruation ends. At this time, the breasts are least likely to be swollen or sore.

After menopause, a person might decide to check, for example, on the first day of each month.

The normal texture and appearance of breasts can vary among individuals. Certain areas might feel sandy or grainy, and others might have small lumps. Not all breast lumps are cancerous.

Routine self-exams help people develop a sense of what is normal for them and make it easier to spot any changes that might occur.

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What Are The Warning Signs Of Breast Cancer

While different people have different symptoms of breast cancerand some dont have any at allwarning signs of breast cancer include new lumps in the breast and armpit, swelling of the breast, redness or pain in the nipple region, or change in the breast size.

Remember that some of these symptoms are associated with other conditions that arent cancer.

Can I Rely On Breast Self

Breast Cancer Awareness with MYA

Mammography can detect tumors before they can be felt, so screening is key for early detection. But when combined with regular medical care and appropriate guideline-recommended mammography, breast self-exams can help women know what is normal for them so they can report any changes to their healthcare provider.If you find a lump, schedule an appointment with your doctor, but dont panic 8 out of 10 lumps are not cancerous. For additional peace of mind, call your doctor whenever you have concerns.

Read Also: Invasive Breast Cancer Survival Rates

What Is Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is a form of cancer that is prevalent among women. Cancer is understood as a broad term for a class of disease characterized by abnormal cells that grow and invade healthy cells in the body . The abnormal growth can lead to tumors developing and, if left untreated, spread throughout the rest of the body. Breast cancer can begin in different parts of the breast, with the two most common forms of breast cancer being invasive ductal carcinoma and invasive lobular carcinoma . However, it is essential to note that when breast cancer is detected early and is in the localized stage, the 5-year relative survival rate is 99% . While the medical terms and statistics may be difficult to understand, everyone can take steps to check if any changes should be discussed with a medical professional.

What Are The Risks Of Chemotherapy

Different chemotherapy medicines tend to cause different side effects. Many women do not have problems with these side effects, while other women are bothered a lot. There are other medicines you can take to treat the side effects of chemo.

Talk to your doctor about the type of chemotherapy medicine that he or she is planning to give you. Ask about any side effects that the chemo may cause.

Short-term side effects can include:

  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Hair thinning or hair loss.
  • Mouth sores.
  • Increased chance of bruising, bleeding, and infection.
  • Memory and concentration problems.

Long-term side effects of chemotherapy can include:

  • Early menopause, which means not being able to have children anymore. It also can include symptoms like hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and thinning bones .
  • Concentration problems that may last for many months after your treatments are finished.
  • In rare cases, heart damage and a higher risk of other types of cancers, such as leukemia.

Also Check: How Many Chemo Sessions For Breast Cancer

Is There A Particular Time Of The Month I Should Do Breast Self

Women should do a breast self-exam once a month, every month. Women who are still menstruating should perform a breast self-exam after their period. Women who have stopped menstruating and those who have very irregular periods can pick a day each month. Choose a day that is consistent and easy to remember, like the first day of the month, the last day of the month or your favorite number.

What If You Spot Any Changes In Your Breast

Learn how to examine your breast for cancer the proper way

It is important to regularly check your breasts for any changes. Breast tissue reaches all the way up to your collarbone and across to your armpit, so its vital to check these areas too.

If you feel or see any changes in your breast you should always consult your GP.

Charity CoppaFeel! recommends checking your breasts monthly, so you can pick up on any changes quickly.

Breasts do change naturally as part of your monthly menstrual cycle, so you should get to know your breasts, how they feel and what changes they usually go through to know if anything is out of the ordinary.

If youre pregnant your breasts will go through a lot of changes, and probably will never look the same.

Be aware of any new changes, and keep checking them regularly.

During the menopause breasts may also change size and shape, but it is still important to see your doctor over any new changes.

If any changes or lumps need further treatment, your GP may recommend a mammogram or a biopsy.

Charity Breast Cancer Now and CoppaFeel! have more information and support for people who have been diagnosed, are living with or in remission from breast cancer. The NHS website also has a page dedicated to breast cancer.

Read Also: How Likely Am I To Get Breast Cancer

What Are The Signs And Symptoms

According to Breast Cancer Now, the signs of breast cancer include:

  • A lump or swelling in the breast, upper chest or armpit
  • A change to the skin, such as puckering or dimpling
  • A change in the colour of the breast the breast may look red or inflamed
  • A nipple change, for example it has become pulled in
  • Rash or crusting around the nipple
  • Unusual liquid from either nipple
  • Changes in size or shape of the breast
  • Pain in the breast or armpit – although this alone is not usually a sign of breast cancer, look out for persistent pain that’s there all the time
  • You should see a doctor if you notice any change to the breast. Even though it probably is not cancer, catching it early will improve the odds of survival.

    Sarah had secondary breast cancer, which is when cancer cells spread from the breast to other parts of the body. At this point, it is no longer curable.

    The signs of this are:

  • Feeling sick most of the time
  • Severe or ongoing headaches
  • Unexpected weight loss, loss of appetite
  • How Will I Be Tested For Breast Cancer

    If you have symptoms, you may be referred for a mammogram. You may also need an ultrasound scan, which uses high frequency waves to create an image of part of the body.

    If breast cancer is suspected, you will have a biopsy, which examines cells taken from your breast to see whether they are cancerous. A needle biopsy is the most common type of biopsy. A biopsy can also be done by needle aspiration, where a sample of breast cells is removed using a small needle.

    If a diagnosis of breast cancer is confirmed, tests will be needed to confirm the stage and grade of the cancer, and the best method of treatment.

    Also Check: What Is The Prognosis For Stage 4 Breast Cancer

    In The Shower Or Bath

    It may be easier to check your breasts while youre in the shower or bath, as your hands are wet. This makes it easier to slide your hand over your breasts.

    An easy way to check your breasts is to:

  • Raise one arm above your head.
  • With the flat of your fingers press into your breast, feeling for any changes, softly at first and then more firmly.
  • Check the entire breast area, from your collarbone to under your breast, and from the side of your breast up into your armpit. A good way to do this is to move your hands over your breasts, in an up and down or in a circular motion. This is an easy way to make sure youve checked the whole area.
  • Repeat on the other breast
  • Why Should I Do Breast Self

    New breast cancer bra worn during radiotherapy

    Monthly breast self-exams can help you detect changes that may be signs of infection or breast cancer . When breast cancer is detected early, the chances for survival are much better.

    Self-exams are important for breast health. But they should not replace exams and screening tests recommended by doctors. You should still see your primary care provider and/or gynecologist regularly.

    Also Check: What Is Stage 3a Breast Cancer

    What Are The Symptoms Of Breast Cancer

    Signs and symptoms of breast cancer include:

    • A lump or swelling in the breast, upper chest or armpit
    • A change to the skin, such as puckering or dimpling
    • A change in the colour of the breast the breast may look red or inflamed
    • A nipple change, for example it has become pulled in
    • Rash or crusting around the nipple
    • Unusual liquid from either nipple
    • Changes in size or shape of the breast

    On its own, pain in your breasts is not usually a sign of breast cancer. But look out for pain in your breast or armpit thats there all or almost all the time.

    Although rare, men can ger breast cancer. The most common symptom of breast cancer in men is a lump in the chest area.

    Breast Cancer: Self Examination

    You can start looking for any breast abnormalities starting with the visual examination of the breasts, by keeping your hands at the side in a neutral position in front of the mirror. Few of the symptoms may include:

    • Change in shape and size of either of the breasts

    • Dimpling or puckering of the nipple or skin

    • Persistent rash or change in skin around the nipple

    • Nipple retraction or inversion

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    Key Points To Remember

    • Chemotherapy is sometimes used after surgery for early-stage breast cancer to help lower the chances that your breast cancer will come back.
    • Some types of cancer have a very small chance of coming back. Women who have these types of cancer may not need chemo. There are gene tests that may show whether having chemo will help you reduce your chances that the cancer will return.
    • Your age, type of cancer, tumour size, and hormone receptor status have an effect on how well chemo will work to keep your cancer from coming back.
    • Different medicines used for chemo have different side effects. Your doctor can give you other medicines to help you deal with side effects like nausea and vomiting. Some women are bothered a lot by the side effects, but some aren’t.

    What Should You Look For In Your Breasts

    Breast self-exam: How to examine your breasts for cancer

    Be aware of any new or unusual changes in your breasts. If you notice any signs or symptoms of breast cancer , see your doctor immediately.

    Sign or symptoms of breast cancer will depend on where the tumour is, the size of the tumour and how quickly it is growing in the breast. For example, some women will not have any symptoms and the breast cancer is found during a screening mammogram .

    Also Check: What Is Stage 3a Breast Cancer

    Enhancing Healthcare Team Outcomes

    Breast exams may be performed by many clinicians including nurses. However, it is important to understand that current guidelines do not recommen regular clinical breast exams for cancer screening for women in any risk group. However, the women should be educated on the importance of changes to to the typical appearance and texture of their breasts and report any changes to their doctor right away.

    Basic Facts About Breast Health:

    UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.

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    What Are The Stages Of Breast Cancer

    There are 5 stages of breast cancer:Stage 0: Non-invasive breast cancer no evidence whether the cancer is spreading in neighboring regionsStage 1 4: Varying stages of invasive cancer which starts spreading to nearby tissuesDoctors use various sophisticated techniques to determine which stage cancer you have.

    Know What Is Normal For You

    Change &  Check

    It’s important to know what is normal for you. Your breasts will go through many normal changes during your life. For example, they are affected by changes in your hormones during your menstrual cycle, pregnancy and breast-feeding and menopause.

    • Your menstrual cycle: Each month, when you are having periods, your breasts often change. They can become bigger, tender and lumpy usually before a period starts and return to normal once the period is over. Some women, however, may have tender, lumpy breasts throughout their cycle.
    • Pregnancy and breast-feeding: The changes that occur during your menstrual cycle continue during pregnancy. While breast-feeding, your breasts may be very enlarged, firm and tender this is normal at this time. However, you should continue to check your breasts and discuss any unusual changes with your GP.
    • Menopause: After the menopause your breasts will feel softer and they may get bigger or smaller. If there is a change in only one breast, you should discuss this with your doctor. HRT hormone replacement therapy may cause your breasts to feel firmer and quite tender.

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    What To Do If You Find A Lump

    Dont panic if you think you feel a lump in your breast. Most women have some lumps or lumpy areas in their breasts all the time, and most breast lumps turn out to be benign . There are a number of possible causes of non-cancerous breast lumps, including normal hormonal changes, a benign breast condition, or an injury.

    Dont hesitate to call your doctor if youve noticed a lump or other breast change that is new and worrisome. This is especially true for changes that last more than one full menstrual cycle or seem to get bigger or more prominent in some way. If you menstruate, you may want to wait until after your period to see if the lump or other breast change disappears on its own before calling your doctor. The best healthcare provider to call would be one who knows you and has done a breast exam on you before for example, your gynecologist, primary care doctor, or a nurse practitioner who works with your gynecologist or primary care doctor.

    Make sure you get answers. Its important that your doctor gives you an explanation of the cause of the lump or other breast change and, if necessary, a plan for monitoring it or treating it. If youre not comfortable with the advice of the first doctor you see, dont hesitate to get a second opinion.


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