Protecting your assets
When it comes to our breasts, most women are totally unaware of the importance of regular check-ups and examinations. Most tend to postpone and some are just in denial about the big C.
According to PinkDrive, it is important to self-examine your breasts regularly as to early detect any irregularities. And doing a self-examination is easier than you think.
*For a downloadable self breast examination guide, visit www.pinkdrive.co.za.
How to do a self exam
1. Start by standing in front of the mirror and looking at your breasts. Lift your arms above your head as though trying to reach the ceiling and look at your breasts in a stretched position.
2. Check to see that there are no obvious changes between the two sides: no nipple changes or visible lumps.
3. Now feel your breasts. Use the flat surface of your fingers.
4. Always keep your hand flat on your breast.
5. Apply cream, shower gel, soap or oil to your breasts before starting to feel. This will help your hand glide easily over your skin and make it easier to feel for any lumps.
6. Put one hand behind your head. The free hand will check the opposite breast.
7. Start feeling in the armpit.
8. Move in the figure of a six around the entire breast, until you reach the nipple.
9. Go back to the armpit, moving from top to bottom of the breast, covering the whole area once again.
10. Move from the armpit in a side-to-side direction, again covering the whole breast.
11. The breast begins at the collarbone, down to your abdominal wall and from your breast bone to mid-way through your side.
12. Check for any nipple discharge from the nipples.
13. The only time there should be something coming out of the nipple is when you are breastfeeding. A yellow or green discharge can indicate an infection.
If it is clear or blood-stained, go straight to the doctor for a check-up.
What to look out for
• A lump in the breast or armpit – sizes may vary from that of a marble to a the size of a tennis ball
• Increase in size of one breast
• Swelling of glands in armpit
• Enlargement of one armpit
• Dimpling of the skin
• Dimpling of or changes to the nipple
• Discharge from the nipple
• Lowering of one breast or nipple
• Orange-peel appearance to the skin of breast and or nipple
• Retraction of one or both nipples
• Eczema) of the nipple.
What is a mammogram and why is it important?
Apart from self-examinations, you should also annually get a mammogram.
A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast done using radiation and can help diagnose breast cancer.
Most women think of a mammogram as something that flattens your breasts between plates.
And indeed you would be right, well … sort of anyway.
When getting a mammogram, the breasts will be positioned between the compression plates of the mammogram machine.
This is done to help spread out the internal tissues comprising the breast allowing the radiologist to see more detail of the breast.
Breast are therefore not completely flattened and it is not painful, but may be uncomfortable.
Men and women aged 40 years and older should go for a mammogram. And yes, men also get breast cancer.
A women’s breasts are only fully developed once she had children and radiation is unsafe until then.
Those under the age of 40 and who have not have children yet can opt for an ultrasound examination.
This is when sound waves instead of radiation are used to form an image.
Myths about mammograms
• The machines increase the size of your breasts.
• Your breasts are pressed flat.
• By having a mammogram, you will get breast cancer.
• Compression is very painful –compression should not hurt you, but it will naturally be uncomfortable.
What happens if breast cancer is detected?
In the case of a callback, make an appointment as soon as you can and make sure to ask a loved one or friend to go with you for moral support.
You might have to wait on your results and the support will help a lot.
Once breast cancer is detected, further investigations and tests will follow:
The first step would be to assess the mammogram images.
If cancer is suspected, a biopsy will be performed, whereby a needle will be inserted into the area and cells removed and sent to a laboratory to be checked. This might be a little painful.
The results from the laboratory could take anything between two days and a week to become available.
Based on these results, you could be referred to a specialist for surgery.
Remember that as a patient, it is your right to get a second opinion if you are not happy with the feedback.
More important facts you need to know
• Being diagnosed with breast cancer does not have to be a death sentence.
• There still isn’t a known way to completely prevent breast cancer.
• You can be at risk at any age as the youngest diagnosed with breast cancer was a two year old Canadian girl.
• Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and family planning may increase your risk, when taken for a period of five (plus) consecutive years.
• Although uncomfortable, mammograms can help diagnose breast cancer – it is not there to harm you. Make sure to do your regular self-examination and attend to your yearly mammogram as ‘Early Detection Will Help Prolong a Life”.
To get more breast health info, to find out more about PinkDrive and their services or to contact them visit www.pinkdrive.co.za