Cancer is a word that strikes fear in all of us. This dreaded and horrible disease is a silent killer and comes in different forms, attacking different parts of the body. Like many other diseases though, if detected early enough, treatment plans can be put in place and lives can be saved.
A form of cancer that plagues women in particular is breast cancer although men have been known to get this form of cancer too. Breast cancer can go undetected for a long time if one is not vigilant and too often, the early stages go unnoticed.
1 out of 20 women in Malaysia is at risk of getting breast cancer.-Breast Cancer Welfare Association, Malaysia
Although annual check-ups are important, breast self-examinations are critical too. Only you would notice the changes to your own body so you would be the best person to spot anything that seems different or ‘off’. And don’t be afraid of wasting your doctor’s time – if something is worrying you, go get it checked out. Worrying over nothing is better than being afraid of looking silly and suffering the consequences later. More often than not, women are the first to discover lumps in their breasts, not doctors.
Breast self-examinations are crucial for early detection of breast cancer and it is a simple exam that you can do once a month in the comfort of your own home. Of course, you will need to know what to look out for when carrying out these self-examinations. Although there are many symptoms, the below are some which should raise some red flags:
- A change in size or the shape of your breasts
- Discharge from the nipple
- Swelling in your armpit or around the collarbone
- Redness or rash on the breast and/or around the nipple
- A lump or thickening that feels different (different texture) from the rest of the breast area
- A difference in the shape or position of the nipple, or the nipple becoming inverted
- Puckering or dimpling of the skin or any other change in skin texture
- Constant pain in your breast or armpit
A breast self-examination should be done at least once a month and it is recommended that women should start breast self-examinations at age 20. The ideal time to carry out the examination is a few days (7-10 days) after your period when the breasts are least likely to be swollen or tender. If your menstruation is irregular or you are no longer menstruating, pick a regular date to carry out the self-examination (ie first day of the month).
Credit: Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association
Don’t be afraid to consult your doctor for anything you find that may worry you – the worst thing you could do is to ignore it and hope that it goes away. Take note though that not all lumps are cancerous so pay the doctor a visit just to be sure – do not self-diagnose and get yourself worked up into a frenzied panic. Apart from the self-examinations, you should also have a yearly clinical breast exam carried out by your doctor. Women above 40 years of age are also advised to go for annual mammograms.
Remember, early detection saves lives!