Dr. Carol-Ann Benn is one of the top breast-cancer experts in South Africa and founder of the Helen Joseph Breast Clinic in Johannesburg. She answers five key questions about breast health.
1. What is a breast self-exam?
A regular check that you perform by hand on your breasts.
2. How do I do a breast self-exam?
Examine your breasts standing up and lying down
Stand with your hands on your hips in front of a mirror. Examine your breasts for lumps, changes in size; changes in the skin; including bulging, dimpling or puckering, soreness, swelling, redness or rash; a nipple that has become inverted or changed position; fluid coming out of a nipple; lumps or swelling under the arm.
• Lie down and feel your breasts using your right hand on your left breast and vice versa. Keep your fingers flat and together while moving across your breasts in firm circular motions.
For each breast work your way from top to bottom and side to side. It is important to include the armpits.
3. When should I do a breast self-exam?
Every month, at the end of your menstrual cycle. Even if you’ve had a mastectomy you should feel and examine the scar.
If you don’t have a menstrual cycle – due to hysterectomy or menopause – do it on the same day every month. Men should also do these once a month.
Read more: What causes period pain?
4. Why should I do a breast self-exam?
There is no symptom that can reliably diagnose breast cancer, nor any symptom that is reliably not concerning. A breast self-exam is the best way to educate yourself and become aware of what feels “normal” for your body. Regular breast self-exams make it more likely that you’ll seek help if you detect any abnormalities. All abnormalities should be investigated, but remember that 9 out of 10 will not be cancer.
5. What if I spot something?
See your doctor or gynaecologist, or visit a clinic or hospital as soon as possible.
• What would you do? Fatima Sherazi was diagnosed with breast cancer a week after she found out she was pregnant. This is what she did.
• Pink stilettos: See what breast cancer survivor Cheryl de Wit did on her last day of chemo and how she learnt to live minute by minute.
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