Expert Tips on How to Conduct a Breast Check on Yourself At Home

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October marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month around the world. In Australia, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer, with eight people dying from the disease every single day. To change this scary statistic, we must highlight the importance of research that allows experts to improve the outcomes for those affected by breast cancer.

What can you do to get involved? Well, you can donate your own money to organisations like Breast Cancer Trials, which conduct clinical trials into the disease and encourage your loved ones to do the same. You can spread the word on social media and, to keep yourself healthy, you can conduct regular breast checks at home.

While this process might feel intimidating, it’s actually really straightforward. For expert advice, we turned to Dr Nick Zdenkowski from Breast Cancer Trials to explain the proper process for conducting a self-check. Dr Zdenkowski recommends conducting these checks regularly throughout the month, so you can stay on top of any changes.

“Every woman’s breasts are different in terms of size, shape and density,” said Dr Zdenkowski. “It’s also possible for one breast to be larger than the other and your breasts can feel different at different times of month based on your menstrual cycle. For example, some women have tender and lumpy breasts, especially near the armpit, around the time of their period.”

How to Conduct a Self-Check

Start by looking at your breasts, then raise one arm and feel each breast and armpit right up to your collarbone. Dr Zdenkowski recommends trying this while in the shower or bath, as it can often be a little easier. Try “running a soapy hand over each breast and up under each armpit,” he said.

“Using your fingerpads, move up and down the whole breast and armpit area and then move in a circular motion around the whole breast and armpit.”

You can also conduct your examination in the mirror. “Look with your arms by your side and also with them raised,” said Dr Zdenkowski. “You’re looking for any lumps or skin dimpling, changes in skin colour or texture, nipple deformation, a change in the nipple colour or any fluid leaks.”

Symptoms to Look Out For

While a lump in one’s breast is the most commonly known symptom of breast cancer, there are a number of other signs to keep an eye out for. If you find one of the following symptoms, it’s important not to panic. According to Dr Zdenkowski: “Nine out of 10 breast changes aren’t due to cancer.[1] However, you should consult your doctor if you find any changes in your breasts.”

Pain in Armpit and Breast

Many people experience breast pain at some stage, with it commonly occurring around the menstrual cycle. So, while breast pain isn’t a super common symptom, if the pain is new and persistent, it’s worth chatting about it with your doctor.

Change in Breast Size and Shape

Hormonal changes can often result in changes in your breast size and shape. “Pregnancy can cause the breasts to increase by an average of two cup sizes and your monthly period can also cause your breasts to change including feeling swollen, tender or lumpy before a period begins,[2]” said Dr Zdenkowski.

“It’s important you are familiar with these changes. Most changes to the breast shape and size are not cancerous, however, if you are concerned or have additional symptoms, speak with your doctor.”

Changes to the Nipple

“If there is a new change in the shape or look of your nipple, this could be a symptom of breast cancer,” said Dr Zdenkowski. “A cancer may be present if there is nipple inversion — that is, the nipple is pulled in and cannot be pulled out to a normal shape, and rather than forming a slit shape the nipple is pulled in together, the nipple has any scaliness or crusting; an ulcer or sore; or unusual redness or a lump can be felt behind the nipple. [3] However, nipple inversion may also occur naturally with increasing age.”

Clear and Bloody Nipple Discharge

“Most nipple discharges will not be an indicator of breast cancer. However, a cancer may be present if the nipple discharge comes out without the nipple or breast being squeezed, comes from a single duct in one nipple, is blood-strained or tests positive for blood and is new, or in a woman 60 years or older. [4]

Changes to the Skin

Most changes to the skin on your breasts can be put down to other conditions like allergies, but these are the signs you should look out for, says Dr Zdenkowski. “Changes in the look and feel of the skin of the breast, such as persistent skin redness, a rash, a scaly appearance, puckering, unusual redness or other colour changes, or dimpling (an ‘orange peel’ appearance) should be investigated further. [5]

“Sometimes breast cancer can look like a breast infection, but if it does not respond to antibiotics, or there are unusual features, it should be investigated further, because it may signify the presence of inflammatory breast cancer.”

If you have any concerns, please make an appointment with your GP to discuss these further. For more information, head to the Breast Cancer Trials website.


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