Breast self examination is a hot topic of discussion lately with some physicians arguing that the recommendation of the various Cancer Agencies to do regular breast examinations would not stand up in view of “evidence based medicine” methods and would lead to unnecessary further tests. Most textbooks though recommend to continue the practice of self breast examination (Ref. 3, p. 203) as about 40% of breast cancer detection is done by the woman herself.
It has to be understood that BSE is only part of a screening program that also includes mammography once per year (for women above 40 years of age) and physical breast examination by the treating physician (Ref. 3 and 14).
Here is a simple three-step method of breast self examination (BSE)
1. Once per month look at your breasts critically in front of a mirror and look for any asymmetry that you were not aware of before, surface changes, dimples, lumps under the skin etc.
2. Examine each breast separately as depicted in this link. You are now feeling for a lump inside the breast or for something stuck under your skin that is not so in the other breast.
3. Examine each armpit with the fingers of the opposite hand looking for a swollen gland under the armpit. If this were present, you would detect a hard lump in the depth of your armpit, which you would not find in the other arm pit.
If any of these three steps that are done on a monthly basis results in a positive or query finding have it re-examined by your physician. Do not put it off.
Every woman who follows this simple BSE method will likely be found to have early breast cancer, if this is indeed what is found. Many other times it likely will be a benign breast lump that needs to be investigated further to be sure that it is not a cancerous lump.
When breast cancer symptoms are present, the breast cancer is often already advanced beyond the first stage, but this would be in a woman who never did breast self examination. However, with BSE a woman can ensure that she is breast cancer free or detects it in the earliest asymptomatic stage where breast cancer treatment is highly successful.
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