Breast Cancer Awareness Month is coming up this October, so we wanted to touch on this subject in an article here.
Breast Cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer that is diagnosed in women in the US. It can take hold in both men and women, but it is much more prevalent in women. Thankfully, we’ve made great strides in diagnosis and treatment, due in no small part to the awareness and research support there’s been thus far. We want to keep you safe and healthy, so we’re going to break down the symptoms of breast cancer, how to perform a breast exam, and what a screening and diagnostic mammogram is.
Breast Cancer Symptoms
Breast cancer has a number of symptoms to take note of during a breast exam, and knowing these symptoms can mean getting to a doctor a few months earlier than otherwise. This is incredibly important, and if you see any of these symptoms, get to a doctor as soon as possible to get their opinion – you can’t be too sure.
- A breast lump / thickening of tissue: This is probably the symptom most people are aware of – if you feel a lump of tissue that feels noticeably firmer than the surrounding tissue, consult a doctor.
- Breast or Nipple Pain: This should go without saying, but if you experience pain in either your breast or your nipple, that is a cause for concern.
- Dimpling of the Skin or Irritation: People often refer to this as your skin looking like the peel of an orange, because the dimpling resembles that of one.
- Nipple Discharge: If you experience nipple discharge – anything other than breast milk – you should speak with a doctor, as this is a sign of a larger issue.
- Nipple Retraction (Inverting the Nipple): If your nipple goes from naturally pointing outward to being inverted, this is a sign of potential breast cancer.
- Redness, thickening, or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin: Again, this should go without saying, but if you experience any of these things, it’s definitely a sign you should speak with your doctor.
Performing a Breast Exam
Mammograms aren’t perfect, and can’t always detect breast cancer perfectly. For that reason, it’s important that you become aware of your breasts and what they look and feel like normally, as well as any changes that may occur.
You can perform a breast exam in the shower, in front of a mirror or lying down. The methods vary slightly based on this context, and we recommend all three if possible.
- In front of a mirror: First, begin by looking over your breasts visually, then raise your arms above your head. Check for any changes in the contour, dimpling, swelling of the skin, or changes in the nipples.Next, put your palms on your hips and press firmly, flexing your chest muscles. The breasts will not match exactly – this is normal. Look for dimpling, puckering or changes – particularly on only one side.
- In the shower: Start by using the pads of your finders to go around the whole breast, using a circular motion. Move from the outside of the breast toward the center, being sure to check both the whole breast and the armpit.Feel for any lump, thickening or a hardened knot in the breast tissue, and if you find any get them checked out by a doctor.
- While lying down: Breast tissue spreads evenly around the chest while you’re laying down. With this in mind, put a pillow under one of your shoulders. Lift the corresponding arm (right, if your right shoulder has a pillow under it) above your head.Using the opposite hand, move the pads of your fingers around the whole breast, moving gently in small circular movements. Be sure to cover the whole breast area, as well as the armpit. Use light to firm pressure and squeeze the nipple, checking for and lumps or discharge.Repeat these steps for the other breast.
What is a Mammogram?
A mammogram, to put it short, is an x-ray of a breast.
They can be used to check if a woman with no symptoms or signs of breast cancer actually has the disease. This sort of mammogram is known as a screening mammogram. These usually involve two or more x-rays of each breast. These images often make it possible to find tumors that cannot be felt. They also can find tiny deposits of calcium in the breast tissue that sometimes indicate breast cancer.
The other form of mammogram is used to check for breast cancer after a lump or symptom is found. It’s called a diagnostic mammogram. This form of mammogram can also be used to evaluate any changes that are found during a screening mammogram or observe breast tissue when it is otherwise difficult to obtain a screening mammogram.