Breast cancer is the most common tumor pathology. But last year Italy missed 2.5 million check-ups because of COVID and more than 3000 breast cancer diagnoses got delayed. In the UK, Breast Cancer Now estimates almost 1.5 million fewer women in the UK had breast screening, compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Thanks to Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we remember to have a check-up every October, but this is not enough. We should be doing self-examinations every month. If you find a tumor when it’s only 1cm big, you have a 90% chance of getting cured. Awareness and regular checks can really help save lives.
Who should be doing it?
Everyone. Yes, even men! Their nipples also have a small amount of mammary tissue and so they should get checked too (even if breast cancer in men is only 0.5/1% of all cases).
It's important to self-examine your breasts as soon as possible and carry out this routine for the rest of your life. Just over 10,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer under the age of 50 every year in the UK. Of these, around 7,600 women will be in their 40s. Around 2,300 women in the UK are diagnosed aged 39 or under, or just 4% of all cases. Even if the majority of breast cancers are diagnosed in women under 50, the chances of developing it are higher post menopause. So it’s incredibly important to set a monthly reminder.
In the UK, the NHS Breast Screening Programme is available free for all women aged 50 or over. Women aged between 50 and 70 are invited for screening every three years.
Here are the 3 golden rules for self-examination: to know your body, to touch your body and to be consistent in doing it.
When should you do it?
Right after having your period. If you are in menopause, it doesn’t matter - just remember to check every month.
Step 1: Look at your naked breast in a mirror.
If you are not used to having a look at your boobs, start today! Get to know their shape, colour, texture and dimensions. Also pay attention to the colour and shape of your nipples and areola. How can you spot changes if you don’t take a closer look?!
Stand with your arms on your sides and then with your arms behind your head. Are they symmetrical? Is one bigger or smaller than the other? Remember every detail.
Don’t panic: boobs are always different from one another. The important thing is that each boob hasn’t changed.
Step 2: Start your self-examination.
There are only 2 simple actions: for one you’ll need your eyes, for the other your hands.
- have a look at your breast: does the skin have redness, roughness, or skin thickening? Could you spot hollows or protuberances? Are the dimensions and symmetry the same?
- now move to your nipples: are there any colour changes? Irritations? How is the skin on your areola (dry, cracked or any scabs)? Could you spot any change in your nipples (e.g. has it retracted)?
Now you are ready to use your hands. You can do this part standing up, laying down or in the shower. You need to touch your whole boob; including your nipple, armpit and the area between the breast and the armpit.
If you are standing, place the arm of the boob you want to check first, behind your head, as if you were trying to touch your shoulder plate. If you are laying, again place the arm behind your head.
The best way to start touching your breast, is to keep your fingers together, stiff.
You can move in circles around all the areas you’ve already checked with your eyes, or you can do it up and down or side to side - the most important thing is to concentrate on understanding if there are hollows, protuberances, roughness or thickening.
Then switch to your nipples: if you press them, does anything come out (this could be a watery, milky, or yellow fluid or blood)?
If everything’s fine, you’re good to go! If you’ve spotted something different, reach out to your GP and talk to them.
Remember that this self-examination is fundamental but it shouldn’t be a self-diagnosis that will create more anxiety. If you are consistent, you’ll better understand your body and know exactly how to check and detect changes.