According to the World Health Organization (WHO), breast cancer is the most common cancer in women both in the developed and less developed world. The UAE is no exception; breast cancer remains the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women according to the Ministry of Health and Prevention.
Breast cancer can occur at any age, but the risk increases as you get older. Even though the exact cause is unknown, certain factors put some women at a higher risk of having breast cancer than others. This includes a family history of breast cancer, women who began their menstrual cycle before the age of 12 (early menarche), or who went into menopause at an older age, or women who never conceived or breast-fed. Moreover, oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy are also suspected of putting users at a higher risk. Some experts highlight the relationship between the risk of breast cancer and poor lifestyle choices, such as a sedentary life, and obesity.
Many of the symptoms of breast cancer are subtle and unnoticeable without professional screening such as mammography. This is the best screening used today for early detection of breast cancer. It can detect changes before you notice any abnormalities in your breast. Indeed, detecting breast cancer early, while it is still small in size, has not spread, and can be easier to treat, can significantly help prevent fatalities from the disease. Therefore, regular screening is the most reliable way to detect breast cancer early. You can certainly help by being watchful for certain changes in your breasts and taking proactive actions about your breast health.
Women are encouraged to conduct routine breast self-exams; a convenient, no-cost tool that can be done regularly and at any age. The more you examine your breasts, the more you familiarise yourself with them, and the easier it will become for you to notice if something is amiss. Make it a habit to examine your breasts once a month to familiarise yourself with how they usually look and feel. Examine your breasts a few days after your monthly period ends; when your breasts are least likely to be swollen or tender. If you are menopausal, choose a date that is easy to memorise, such as the first day of the month. Before or during your shower is the ideal and most suitable time to do the self-examination.
How can you self-examine your breasts appropriately?
FIRST STEP (while standing in front of a mirror)
- While standing straight with your hands by your side, observe your breasts. Look for any visible swelling or skin discrepancy on either breast.
- Place your hands on your hips and bend forward. Observe the way your skin looks and the way your breasts move to check for any abnormality. Hold your arms over your head, and then look at your armpits, to the sides, and under the breasts for any swelling, shape disparity or skin changes.
- Next, lift your left arm (you may place the palm on your head) then place your right hand on your left breast and use the pads of your fingers to start the exam. Starting from the centre of the breast, move your fingers firmly, while pressing with the fingers, in small circles outward. Feel for any lumps in the entire breast, and also note any pain. Gently squeeze the nipple, checking for discharge. Feel your armpit as well.
- Repeat the entire process with your right arm up, using your left hand to examine your right breast and armpit.
- You may find the above easier if you apply a little moisturiser.
SECOND STEP (while lying down)
With a pillow under your left shoulder, use the pads of the fingers on your right hand to check your left breast. Press using firm pressure in small circles without lifting your fingers off the skin. Feel for any changes in your breast, around your collarbone and in your armpit. Repeat the same on your right breast using your left hand.
What are you looking for upon self-examining your breasts and armpits?
Seek expert medical help without delay if you detect any of the following changes:
- Lump, suspicious thickening, or pain on touching any part of your breasts
- Skin swelling, warmth, redness, dimpling or puckering of the skin, or itchy nipple
- Change in the size or the shape of the breast
- Pulling in of your nipple or nipple discharge
Being aware of your breasts is fundamental for your overall health. You do not need to worry even if you find a lump or a suspicious change; remember that most breast lumps are benign (non-cancerous). The most imperative thing is to know before it is too late.
The Dubai London Clinic and Speciality Hospital is dedicated to delivering reader-friendly and comprehensive educational information on breast health. We strive to spread the message of the importance of early detection of breast cancer for improving outcomes, and for empowering women with the information needed for healthy living. Share this information to support our endeavours to reach more women during this breast cancer awareness month.
Dubai London Clinic and Speciality Hospital