The importance of a regular breast examination cannot be stressed enough, seeing as one in eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer. Medical professionals around the world stress that the earlier you take the exam, the better and faster the disease can be diagnosed. Luckily, a breast exam is something that you can do alone, and this self-exam helps increase your awareness of your body. It also helps you differentiate between what is normal and what is not and to detect any changes happening to your body. If you notice that something is off or abnormal, you should go to the doctor and get it professionally checked.
Here is a closer look at the benefits of frequent breast examinations.
What Is a Breast Self-Exam?
It is wise to know what is normal for your breasts. While many doctors may not see an actual accuracy level from it, it gives patients peace of mind. It is a simple procedure you can do at home to detect any abnormal lump. It helps in screening for cysts, tumors, or breast abnormalities and it also familiarizes you with the texture, size, and shape of your breasts. Typically, you should stand topless in front of a mirror and place your hands on your sides. Then, you should visually scrutinize your breasts in terms of changes in symmetry, shape, or size. You should also take note if there are puckering, dimpling, or asymmetrical ridges at the bottom of your breasts and if you have inverted nipples.
The optimal time to do this exam is within a few days after the end of your menstrual cycle. Periods can cause many hormonal changes, so it is better to have a breast self-exam on period-free days. For women who do not menstruate regularly, they can do the self-exam on a day of their choice, preferably either at the beginning or end of every month.
There haven’t been any concerns or risks reported in breast self-exams. If you find a lump in your breasts, it can make you feel very anxious. However, most of the lumps in breasts are benign and noncancerous, and they can be caused by hormonal conditions or benign occurrences. One thing that should be noted, though, is that breast self-exams may lead women to have unnecessary biopsies.
When you undergo a breast biopsy procedure, it involves the surgical removal of a small part of your breast tissue. As stated before, the majority of breast abnormalities are not causes for worry. Biopsies are not always safe, and patients can be prone to complications, such as infection or bleeding.
When to Go to the Doctor?
First off, not all people are capable of doing self-exams, so contacting a doctor to walk you through the procedure is important. After conducting the test on yourself, you may find things that require a professional exam. If you notice a hard knot or lump beside your underarms, experience pain, redness, swelling, or bloody nipple discharge, you should go directly to the hospital as soon as possible. You should also watch out for scales, sores, rashes, itchiness, or prominent thickening of the nipples. Investigating serious abnormalities early on can greatly help you identify cancer before it exacerbates. The tests and procedures involved are clinical breast exams, breast ultrasounds, and diagnostic mammograms.
What is Normal?
Women go through various hormonal changes throughout their lives. It is fine to feel mild lumps or changes in your breasts, especially around the time of your menstrual cycle. You should understand that the tissues of normal breasts are often lumpy and differ in texture among women. Soreness and tenderness are also usually felt during periods, so, it is not alarming to feel pain in your breasts at that time of the month. Changes in size are also normal, especially at puberty and during pregnancy.
What to Expect from the Appointment?
When you get a breast lump evaluation, your doctor will talk you through your health history and may suggest that you do a physical exam. As previously mentioned, most of the exams are just screening tests, so you will get detailed data and statistics about your condition. For women under the age of 30 or those who are pregnant and breastfeeding, breast ultrasounds are often recommended. For those who are over 30, both mammograms and ultrasounds are conducted to assess the lumps. Should more in-depth testing be needed, your doctor will inform you. You may need to do an MRI or biopsy, and in some cases, you may be referred to a breast specialist.
Regular breast exams are vital to ensure your health and well-being. They also help spot cancer in the early stages where it is more likely to be successfully treated. In addition to physical exams, breast self-exams are vital for detecting abnormalities sooner rather than later. As the percentage of breast cancer is high among women, it is always wise to play it safe. Knowing the necessary procedures and tests can save lives.