It has been Breast Cancer Awareness month this October – an extremely important campaign to increase awareness in the UK and an opportunity to encourage women everywhere to give their boobs a feel! As a GP I do breast examinations quite frequently and often ask women if they self-examine. Most will say they are too anxious to do it or aren’t sure how. I don’t find this surprising because we are never really taught how to do it. (!) The aim of this blog post is to give you a step-by-step guide to examining your breasts and the things you need to look out for.
One of the most important things about self-examination is knowing what is normal for you. Breasts come in all different shapes and sizes and the breast tissue itself can differ too. Your breasts may feel very different to those of your best friend! In addition they can change depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle. It’s all about getting to know your breasts well. This way, if there is anything different you can spot it and get down to your GP for a check-up. Please remember that there are lots of different reasons for lumps or skin changes in the breasts, not just cancer, but it’s important to get it checked out.
- Stand in front of a mirror with your bra off
- Start front on and then looking from each side with your arms by your side
- Next, put your hands behind your head so you can have a look at the underarms
- Then put your hands on your hips as well and have another look front on and from each side
- If you have larger breasts then be sure to lift each one up to have a look underneath as well
What are you looking for?
- Any skin changes e.g. any dimpling (like the skin of an orange), redness or a rash
- Nipple changes – does it look like it is being pulled in? Is there any discharge or cracking of the skin?
- Are there any visible lumps?
It’s easier to feel with a flat hand. Keep your fingers together and use the fingertips (where you get your fingerprint from!).
Move around the breast making sure you cover the whole area. You can press quite firmly down and move your hand in a small circular motion to make it easier to feel anything different.
Have a feel under the armpits as well and up to the collar bone.
If you have larger breasts you may find it easier to use two hands – one to support the breast, the other to feel.
When and how often should you do this?
About once a month is a good idea just to get to know what your breasts are like. I always think doing this before having a shower is easiest – you are taking your clothes off anyway plus it is easier to feel in the shower as the water makes it easier for your hand to glide over the skin.
So…. let’s get feeling ladies! And it’s not just women that should be examining – although less common, men can also be affected by breast cancer so spread the word and tell your husbands, partners, brothers and friends! If you are ever concerned then please go and see your GP. There is honestly no need to be embarrassed as we are so used to it!
*Dr Stephanie Ooi is a GP and Mum to a little girl. She works at MyHealthcare Clinic and also runs her Instagram account @the_gp_mum covering a variety of health topics for parents and women.