By Katrina Buttigieg (29 September 2018)
What better time than now to start the habit of checking your breasts regularly? (Unless you are already doing so). The question is, are you? And, do you actually know how to check your breasts?
She was just an ordinary woman. A mum. A sister. A partner. A friend. She was just like anyone else. She exercised when she could. She ate healthily most of the time. She had the odd alcoholic drink. She had no symptoms. She had no signs. Then, she found a lump. She hadn’t really been checking but at some point in the shower or while dressing, she had felt it. She thought it was probably nothing. She put off seeing the doctor because life was busy and it probably was nothing. That’s what she kept telling herself anyway. After stewing over it for a while, she finally did go to the doctor and have that scan. Then, the worst news came. It was breast cancer.
What’s the scariest part of this story? She could be someone you know. She could be your mum, sister, partner or friend. She could be you. Breast cancer does not discriminate.
In Australia breast cancer is the most common cancer amongst women and the second most fatal. When the risk of being diagnosed by age 85 is one in eight, it is no wonder that most of us know someone who has been touched by this horrible disease. Fortunately, early detection gives sufferers a good chance of survival. Breast cancer is more likely to be identified if women check their breasts regularly. Obviously, it is important to know how to do it and what to look for.
There are many ways that you can check your breasts. The main thing is that you are aware of what your own breasts look and feel like so that you are able to notice any changes. This might sound easy but as most women can attest, our breasts change dramatically over the course of our lives. Pregnancy, motherhood, weight changes, breastfeeding, menopause and ageing – all of these have an effect. Breasts come in all shapes, sizes, colours, and some in general are just smoother or lumpier than others. Your breasts are like you, absolutely unique. So the best thing you can do for yourself is be familiar with your own breasts.
Before checking with your hands go over this checklist while standing in front of the mirror. (These points come from the Cancer Australia website).
Make a note of:
● a new lump or lumpiness, especially if it’s only in one breast
● a change in the size or shape of your breast
● a change to the nipple, such as crusting, ulcer, redness or inversion
● a nipple discharge that occurs without squeezing
● a change in the skin of your breast such as redness or dimpling
● an unusual pain that doesn’t go away.
Cancer Australia specifies that the majority of these signs will not necessarily indicate that you have cancer but it is best to check with your general practitioner just in case.
There are many ways you can manually check your breasts. You can do it in the shower, when applying lotion, before dressing, or when lying in bed. Choose a place that you feel comfortable with. There is no one, specific right way to check your breasts but this is a suggestion if you would like a particular method to follow:
● Put one hand above your head
● Start to press the fingers from your opposite hand in small circular motions from your collarbone, past your underarm and continue down until you are in line with your sternum.
● Press lightly and then harder in each spot
● Work your way down and then move your fingers across a little and repeat the process until you you have covered that side of your chest
● When you go past the nipple, make sure you press it firmly and check for any lumps
● Put your other hand above your head and repeat the process on the other side of your body, again working from the collarbone down past the inside of the armpit and work your way in lines back across to the middle of the body
● Repeat this process on a weekly basis
● If you find any changes, visit your doctor to get them checked out
● If you still have concerns after getting the all clear, seek a second opinion
Each year invitations for a free mammogram are sent out to women between the ages of 50 to 74 years old. What is not widely known though is that the screening is actually available and free of charge to any women aged 40 years and over. We suggest that you make use of this service if you are able.
Donate your money or time
There are many opportunities over the course of the year to raise funds for breast cancer research. Whether you host a Girls Night In, attend a gala or a simply donate directly to breast cancer research, it all helps support those suffering and leads us closer to a cure.
Share your stories and knowledge
We cannot underestimate the power of sharing our experiences. Talk about how often you do a self check with your friends; share the experiences of finding lumps and how you dealt with it; encourage others to be aware of their breasts. The more people we educate and remind to check themselves, the more likely we can save someone from a terminal prognosis. Set that weekly reminder alarm on your phone, share this article on your page, and start that chat with a friend. Together we can make a difference.
Kat Buttigieg is a copywriter, author and Macedon Ranges mumma of three rambunctious children. She is the owner of Macedon Ranges Writers, which creates and manages online content for local businesses. Kat’s author blog is A Pocketful Time and reflects on life as a mum and writer. You can catch her through:
Bartel, K. for Pink Hope (17/9/14). How to check your breasts for lumps. Retrieved from https://pinkhope.org.au/how-to-check-your-breasts-for-lumps/
Breast Cancer Awareness Network (2018). Breast Awareness. Retrieved from https://www.bcna.org.au/breast-health-awareness/breast-awareness/
Breast Cancer.Org (2018). Breast Self Exam. Retrieved from https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/testing/types/self_exam
Cancer Council Girls Night In (2018). Breast Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.girlsnightin.com.au/womens-cancers/types/breast-cancer/
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