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How to correctly perform a self-examination of your breasts

Mr Neil Johns, our Consultant Oncoplastic & Reconstructive Breast Surgeon, describes how to correctly perform a self-examination of your breasts:

With everything that’s happened in the last 18 months you would be forgiven for not performing regular self-examinations of your breasts, but recent high profile cases have once again highlighted the importance of it. As we enter breast cancer awareness month, an understanding of how to effectively spot a potential problem is crucial.

We advocate there is no right or wrong way to check your breasts, but it is important to know what is normal for you. That way, you can spot and report any differences, or new symptoms and signs to a specialist.

Be ‘breast aware’, breast examination is a very tactile thing. When you look at your face in the mirror you are able to spot even the smallest of changes because you see yourself most days. It’s the same with breast examination - it’s just you are using your hands as one of your senses. This only comes with familiarity of what your normal breast feels like to you. Your breasts can feel different throughout the month during your menstrual cycle. For example, some women have tender and lumpy breasts, especially near the armpit, around the time of their period. After the menopause, normal breasts feel softer, less firm and not as lumpy. We advocate self-examination at least once a month, you can even get regular text reminders at Remind Me - CoppaFeel!

The NHS Breast Screening Programme has produced a 5-point plan for being breast aware:

  • know what's normal for you
  • look at your breasts and feel them
  • know what changes to look for
  • report any changes to a specialist without delay
  • attend routine screening if you're aged 50 to 70

Look at your breasts and feel each breast and armpit, and up to your collarbone. You may find it easiest to do this in the shower or bath, by running a soapy hand over each breast and up under each armpit. You can also look at your breasts in the mirror. Look with your arms by your side and also with them raised.

See a specialist if you notice any of the following changes:

  • a change in the size, outline or shape of your breast
  • a change in the look or feel of the skin on your breast, such as puckering or dimpling, a rash or redness
  • a new lump, swelling, thickening or bumpy area in one breast or armpit that was not there before
  • a discharge of fluid from either of your nipples
  • any change in nipple position, such as your nipple being pulled in or pointing differently
  • a rash (like eczema), crusting, scaly or itchy skin or redness on or around your nipple
  • any discomfort or pain in one breast, particularly if it's a new pain and does not go away (although pain is only a symptom of breast cancer in rare cases)

If in doubt, check it out

Breast changes can happen for many reasons, and most of them are not serious. Lots of women have breast lumps, and most breast lumps are not cancerous.

However, if you find changes in your breast that are not normal for you, it's best to see a GP or specialist as soon as possible. This is because it's important to rule out breast cancer. If cancer is detected, then appropriate treatment should be planned as quickly as possible.

The Rapid Diagnosis Breast Clinic

My colleague, Miss Harleen Deol and I run The Rapid Diagnosis Breast Clinic It is held on a Monday evening and Thursday morning at Pinehill Hospital. We always aim to see you as soon as possible. Just call us on 01462 427 221 and we will do everything we can to ensure you are seen quickly.

Helpful links used in the creation of this:

How should I check my breasts? - NHS (www.nhs.uk)

Remind Me - CoppaFeel!

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