Written by Josephine Fagan

Health

Checking your boobs – why all the fuss?

Breast cancer is by far the most common form of cancer in women, which is why it’s crucial to keep an eye (and your hands) on your mammaries. Dr Josephine Fagan gives us the lowdown.

egg boobs

In the UK, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives. According to Cancer Research UK the 10-year survival rate for early breast cancer is 85 per cent.

Early detection of breast cancer generally means less radical treatment, so it’s important to be breast aware. Particularly as studies also indicate that 80 per cent of breast lumps are found by women themselves.

What’s the best way to check your own breasts?
There’s no wrong or right way to examine yourself. What matters is that you know how your own breasts look and feel, and that you check for changes.

When is the best time to check your breasts?
There’s no need to change your routine, or check yourself at the same time every month. It’s better to get used to how your breasts are at different times of the month. Some women’s breasts become tender and lumpier before periods, and many women have always had one breast that is bigger than the other.

The best way to become more breast aware is to get into the habit of looking at your breasts in the mirror, before you take a bath or a shower. Then raise your arms and look again.
When you’re washing, or applying body lotion, check all parts of your breasts and armpits and remember to go up to your collarbone. Soapy or slightly slippery hands, slide more easily over the skin surface, allowing you to apply very gentle pressure as you go.

When I look at my own breasts in the mirror, what am I looking for?
• Are your breasts their usual size, shape and colour? Do you see any bulges, dimples or puckering?
• Does the overlying skin look the same? Are there any areas of redness, rashes, or parts where the pores seem more open (like orange-peel)?
• Do your nipples look the same? Has the shape or colour changed? Has one become inverted, or is it pointing in a different direction?
• Has there been any discharge or bleeding from the nipples? Is there any crusting of the nipples?
• Are there any rashes on or around the nipple?

When I examine my own breasts, what am I feeling for?
• Are there any lumps in your breasts or armpits?
• Do any areas feel lumpier in texture than others?
• Are there any painful or tender areas in your breasts or armpits?

What’s the take home message?
• Be breast aware and report any concerns or changes to your doctor.
• Discuss breast awareness with family and friends. Partners are often the first to detect changes. And remember, men can get breast cancer too, although it is very rare.

If you’d like to know more, or get involved in breast awareness campaigns, take a look at the following websites:
http://www.breastcancercare.org.uk/
http://www.breakthrough.org.uk/
http://coppafeel.org/

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Written by Josephine Fagan

Josephine works as a doctor in urgent and primary care. She’s also a bit of a globetrotter, is working on her first novel, and loves the colour purple.