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EXCLUSIVE: Breast Cancer Early Detection, Diagnosis, Preventive Care And Self-Examination- Here’s What Experts Say

Breast cancer detection and diagnosis: Breast cancer is a specific sort of cancer that develops in the breast. It may begin in either the left or right breast. Although men can also develop breast cancer, breast cancer affects almost predominantly women. 

Breast cancer has a 99% 5-year relative survival rate when found early and in the isolated stage, according to the American Cancer Society. Making regular appointments for clinical breast exams, mammograms, and monthly self-exams of the breasts all contribute to early detection. To improve the likelihood of early detection, additional education on breast self-examination is recommended.

Here we bring you an in-detail article about the early detection, self-examination and preventive care for breast cancer with expert advice and inputs from Dr Alka Dahiya, Associate Consultant, Cancer Care / Oncology, Surgical Oncology, Gynecologic Oncology, Breast Cancer, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Shalimar Bagh and Dr Vidhi Shah, Consultant-Breast OncoSurgery, Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi.

Breast Cancer: Signs and symptoms

Many breast cancer signs are undetectable without a professional test, but some can be identified early with just a little bit of proactive breast health care.

You can more easily spot any changes in your breast by conducting monthly breast self-exams. If you see anything odd, make sure to consult your healthcare professional.

1.  Change in how your breast/nipple looks or feels. 

– Like thickening in or near the breast or underarm area or change in the skin texture or an enlargement of pores in the skin of the breast.

– Swelling

– Unexplained change in the size or shape of the breast

– Skin of the breast, areola, or nipple that becomes scaly, red, or swollen

2. Nipple discharge

Inform your doctor of any nipple discharge, whether it is clear, bloody, or milky. Clear or bloody discharges are the most alarming.

It is also crucial to remember that, even though it is unrelated to breast cancer, a woman’s doctor should be consulted if they experience a milky discharge when she’s not breastfeeding.

Dr Alka Dahiya remarks, “In our nation, one in eight women are unaware of the existence of breast cancer and frequently delay taking steps to seek treatment. Simple self-breast exams performed each month after menstruation could aid in the early detection of breast cancer and improve survival rates. 

“Self-examination is crucial for maintaining breast health but shouldn’t take the place of professional screening procedures like mammography and USG,” Dr Dahiya further recommends.

Breast Cancer: Early detection and diagnosis

One of the most crucial ways to avoid breast cancer mortality is by detecting it early and receiving cutting-edge cancer treatment. Early-stage breast cancer that is localized and has not spread is simpler to treat effectively. The most reliable method of detecting breast cancer early is by getting routine screening tests.

Dr Vidhi Shah suggests that every woman after the age of 45 should start regular screening and self-examination for any unusual lumps especially painless lumps which could be cancerous.

2D/3D mammograms along with Clinical breast exams (CBE) and breast self-exam (BSE) help find breast cancer early when women get regular screening.

“Women should be aware of how their breasts typically look and feel, and they should consult a healthcare professional about any changes at the earliest,”  states Dr Vidhi.

Breast Cancer: How to conduct breast self-examination for breast cancer at home?

“A breast self-exam is a procedure that women can use to check their breasts step-by-step. You can detect anything that seems out of the ordinary by regularly feeling and looking at your breasts”, says Dr Vidhi Shah. You can do a breast exam when you’re dressing for the day or undressing at night, lying in bed in the morning or at bedtime, or taking a shower.

A step-by-step guide to breast self-exam:

STEP 1- Inspection (Look): Examine your breasts in a mirror with hands on your hips

– Remove your shirt and bra and position yourself in front of a mirror. Your arms should be at your sides. 

– Keep an eye out for any changes to the nipples, dimpling in the skin, breast swelling, or breast shape. 

– Next, extend your arms wide in front of you while searching for the same things. 

– Then, press firmly with your hands on your hips to get your chest muscles to contract. See the same changes once more. Don’t forget to inspect both breasts.

STEP 2- Raise your arms and examine your breasts

Raise your arms and look for the same changes as mentioned in step 1.

STEP 3: Look for signs of breast fluid

Look for any signs of fluid leaking from one or both nipples while you’re looking in the mirror (this could be a watery, milky, or yellow fluid or blood).

STEP 4: Palpation (Feel): Feel for breast lumps while lying down

Your breast tissue spreads more evenly while you’re lying down. So if your breasts are big, this is an excellent posture to feel for changes. 

– Place a pillow beneath your right shoulder when lying down. your right arm should be behind your head. 

– Use the same method as in step 2 with your left hand, pressing all areas of the breast tissue and under your arm with the pads of your fingers. 

– Last but not least, flip the pillow to the opposite side and examine the opposite breast and armpit. 

– Before gently squeezing the nipple to check for discharge, make sure to look under the areola.

STEP 5: Feel your breasts for lumps while standing or sitting

– With your shirt and bra off, examine your left breast with your right hand, then your right breast. Press on each area of one breast using the pads of your three middle fingers. 

– First, apply light pressure, then medium, and finally firm. Check your body for any lumps, thick areas, or other changes. You should ensure that you touch every point by using a circular pattern. 

– Then, firmly press the tissue against the arm. Before gently squeezing the nipple to check for discharge, make sure to look under the areola. 

– Cover the entire breast from top to bottom, side to side — from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen, and from your armpit to your cleavage.

– Follow the same procedure on the opposite side of your body.

“The majority of irregularities are not indicative of breast cancer, so if you see any, stay calm and consult your healthcare professional for additional analysis and timely intervention,” advises Dr Alka Dahiya.

Breast Cancer: Preventive care

According to The American Cancer Society, breast cancer cannot be entirely avoided. However, there are certain things you may do to possibly reduce your risk.  Being born a woman and getting older are two risk variables that you have no control over. But, other risk factors are manageable and may reduce your risk.

As per the American Cancer Society, here are some additional steps for all women that might reduce the risk of developing breast cancer:

– Stay at a healthy weight.

– Physically active.

– Alcohol in moderation.

– Genetic counselling and testing.

– Medicines to lower breast cancer risk for women at increased risk.

– Preventive surgery for women with very high breast cancer risk.

– Close observation.

Lastly, Dr Vidhi Shah remarks that women should take out a total of 15 minutes in their busy schedule every month for a simple self-examination to detect lumps (benign or malignant) at home. Just like women tend to care for their families, similarly, they should be able to help themselves as well. It is easier to detect the early onset of cancer when women are comfortable with their bodies and feel at ease while looking at feeling their bodies to check for any lumps.

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