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Breast Cancer Awareness

Early detection saves lives

What is Breast Cancer

Cancer is the growth of abnormal cells that can invade and damage normal tissues in any part of the body. In the breast, it can start and grow in any part of it.

Incidence of breast cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer for women in the world. In 2012, nearly 1.7 million new cases were diagnosed (the second most common cancer overall). This represents about 12% of all new cancer cases and 25% of all cancers in women. Breast cancer in men is not uncommon, it accounts for <1% of overall breast cancer statistics.

The incidence of breast cancer increases as a woman reaches menopause and after menopause, and continues to rise as a woman gets older. At least 80% of recorded cases happen in this age group (menopausal age 45-50). Breast cancer in women in their teens or 20s is not common. However, there have been recorded cases of women in their 20s diagnosed with breast cancer. Therefore, breast awareness needs to start as early as when women reach this age group. In men, breast cancer has been commonly diagnosed between the ages 60-70 but it can still happen at any age.

What is breast awareness?

Generally, awareness means having an ongoing knowledge of something. And that something is your body, in particular your own breasts. Getting to know and becoming familiar with their appearance; to learn how you feel your breasts at different times: before, during, and after menstruation; as you grow older and as you have children. Men also need to be aware of their own breasts and any changes over time. If you are aware of your breast and know what is normal for you then you will be able to notice any irregular changes.

Be aware of what is normal for you

In reality, there is no such thing as a normal breast. Each woman's or man's breast is different. What is normal for you will not be so with others, like your sister, cousin or friends. Each person's breast is different and it changes throughout your life. Some people can have lumpy breasts, or have one breast larger than the other,  or breasts that are different shapes. Some have one or both nipples pulled in (inverted), which can be there from birth or has happened while the breasts were developing. This is why you need to know what is normal for you.

The breast at different stages of life

Your breast may feel different around and during your monthly period. The breast may become more sensitive, feels tender, heavy, and lumpy particularly before a period starts because the milk-producing part of the breast becomes active. It is also common to have one breast larger than the other or a different shape and different symmetry.

 

After you reach the age of when your period had stopped, the breast may feel soft, less firm, and not lumpy. This is because the activity in the milk-producing part of your breast has stopped.

During this time it is still important to be aware of your breasts. They may become larger, lumpy, and tender due to pregnancy changes. Take special notice on any breast changes not related to your pregnancy, like hard lumps. This is because breast cancer can still develop during pregnancy or after childbirth. Breast cancer that develops at this stage is very difficult to detect because of the changes that the pregnancy is causing to your body and on your breast.

Do a regular self-breast examination

It is advisable to start a monthly self-breast examination as early as 20 years of age. The best time to do a self-breast examination is when your breast is not tender or swollen, usually on the tenth day after the first day of your period. Post­ menopausal women and those who had a hysterectomy can pick any day of the month and keep it as a routine every month. There is no right and wrong way of checking your breast. You can do this in front of the mirror while you get dressed or while you are in the bath or taking a shower. These steps may help you in your self-breast examination: LOOK and FEEL technique:

LOOK and FEEL - Female

Check each 

You can

LOOK and FEEL - Male

Check each 

Changes to look out for

changes in size or shape

Breast changes in size or shape, enlargement or swelling.

Nipple discharge

Nipple discharge and note the color of the liquid that is coming out.

Lump(s)

Lump(s) - it can be a hard knot or thickening. Note if it is movable or attached in place. Also, take note if it is painful.

Retraction

Nipple retraction or inverted, (being pulled in).

Swelling

Swelling in the armpit or around the collarbone.

Constant pain and/or itching

Constant pain and/or itching in any parts of your breast and under your armpit.

Skin discoloration

Skin discoloration or redness or a rash-like skin texture around the breast or around the nipple (dimpling, puckering, peaud' orange) or the skin looks like an orange skin.

For men

In men examine the breast for:

  • Lump(s)
  • Nipple discharge 
  • Reddening
  • Inversion of the nipple 
  • Skin dimpling

What to do if you find any changes in your breast that is not normal for you

DON'T PANIC! Not all breast changes are caused by cancer. There are many reasons for these changes in the breast and some of them are harmless but they still need to be checked out as soon as possible. You know better than anyone what is not normal for you so go and see your Doctor as soon as you can and find out what is causing these changes.

What to expect when you see your doctor

Similar to your self-breast examination, your doctor will do a clinical breast examination and examine you for the breast changes that you have observed. Ask for a female doctor if it makes you more comfortable. Your doctor will ask you about your family and medical history. He/she will also ask for a mammogram for you to better visualize and find any changes inside your breasts. Your doctor may also ask for more tests as needed.

If you are less than 40 years old, your doctor may ask for a breast ultrasound instead, because younger women's breast tissue is generally dense compared to older women and a mammogram will not give a good image.