Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women of western industrialized countries. One in every 8 women will develop the disease. The causes of breast cancer point to heredity and other environmental factors that are yet to be explored. Thus, anybody can practically acquire breast cancer even without a strong hereditary background.  Unfortunately, most patients seek professional help at an advanced stage of cancer, when there is very little that can be done. The most common reason for late consultation is late detection of the tumor.

One of the people who can best detect early breast masses is you yourself, and this can simply be done by performing regular breast self exam. It is recommended that women starting at the age of 20 should do monthly breast self exam a week after every menstruation period. Between ages 20 to 39, women should see a doctor at least every three years for regular breast exams. By the age of 40, women are advised to have annual mammograms.

Here are the simple steps of doing a breast self exam.

What you need:
 – pillow
 – mirror

Time required: 10 minutes

How to do the breast exam

 1) Unclothe your upper body, stand in front of the mirror, and place both hands behind your head. Look for changes in the shape or size of your breast and check for dimpling or “pulling in” of the skin and nipples, scaling or rash.

 2) With the right hand still behind the head, place the 3 middle fingers of your left hand on the right breast and press them firmly. Then, do circular motion, starting from the upper outermost part of the  breast working toward the nipple. Note for lumps or any changes of the breast. Continue this motion extending to your armpit.

 3) Gently, squeeze your right nipple with your left thumb and index finger and look for any discharge. Check also the area above your collarbones for enlarged lymph nodes.

 4) Do the same thing with your left breast. (repeat steps 2 & 3)

 5) Next, lie down, place a pillow beneath your right shoulder, and put your right arm under your head. (Placing your hand beneath your head will flatten the fatty tissues of the breast, making deeper masses easily felt.)

 6) Again, using the three middle fingers of your left hand, massage your right breast moving in circular motion, starting from the upper outermost part of the breast, working toward the nipple, then extending to the armpit. Note for lumps or any changes of the breast.
 
 7) Do the same thing your left breast. (repeat step 6)

The reason why breast examination should be performed, both in standing and lying positions, is that while standing up, masses in the upper part of the breast are easier to detect, while a lying down position will make masses in the lower part of the breast more easily detected. Furthermore, It is best to perform breast self exam at least 5 days after menstruation because at this time, the breast is no longer engorged and inflamed. Thus, lumps or masses have high probability to be detected.