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Breast Cancer Awareness - Women's Health


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Each year breast cancer awareness charities make an extra effort to promote breast health. Evelyn Lauder initiated Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM) in 1993 with the aim of increasing awareness, and also to raise funds to help research the condition and also provide support for sufferers.

Today, all the major UK cancer charities continue to champion the cause every October, employing the pink ribbon which is now a global symbol of breast cancer awareness. For more information on breast cancer awareness month, visit

How to Check for Breast Cancer

Breast self-examination (BSE) is an easy but slightly unreliable method for finding possible breast cancer. The purpose is to identify changes in breast structure, especially lumps.

Self examination can only help to detect some forms of breast cancer, and there is no guarantee that it will always successfully detect cancerous growth. It is recommended that women over the age of 40 include a mammography in their general medical check up every 1-2 years.

How to check your breasts for signs of cancer

1. Stand upright with your upper body exposed in front of a mirror.

2. Start with your hands on your hips while just looking for signs of dimpling, swelling, soreness, or rednes.

3. Repeat this visual examination with your arms raised above your head.

4. While still standing, palpate (i. e. examine by touch) your breasts with your fingers, feeling for lumps. Try to use a larger area of your fingers rather than prodding. Feel both for the area just beneath the skin and for the tissue deeper within.

5. Go over the entire breast while examining. One method is to divide the breast into quadrants and palpate each quadrant carefully. Also examine the “axillary tail" of each breast that extends toward the axilla (armpit).

6. Repeat palpation while lying down.

7. Check the nipples and the area just beneath them. Gently squeeze each nipple to check for any discharge.

The Seven P's method

Another method of self examination is known as the Seven P's of BSE. It is similar to the above method, chose whichever you fell most comfortable with.

1. Position: Inspect your breasts visually and palpate in the mirror with arms at various positions. Then perform the examination lying down, first with a pillow under one shoulder, then with a pillow under the other shoulder, and finally lying flat.

2. Perimeter: Examine the entire breast, including the nipple, the axillary tail that extends into the armpit, and nearby lymph nodes.

3. Palpation: Palpate with the pads of the fingers, without lifting the fingers as they move across the breast.

4. Pressure: First palpate with light pressure, then palpate with moderate pressure, and finally palpate with firm pressure.

5. Pattern: There are several examination patterns, and each woman should use the one which is most comfortable for her. The vertical strip pattern involves moving the fingers up and down over the breast. The pie-wedge pattern starts at the nipple and moves outward. The circular pattern involves moving the fingers in concentric circles from the nipple outward. Don't forget to palpate into the axilla.

6. Practice: Practice the breast self-exam and become familiar with the feel of the breast tissue, so you can recognize changes. A health care practitioner can provide feedback on your method.

7. Plan: Know what to do if you suspect a change in your breast tissue. Know your family history of breast cancer. Have mammography done as often as your health care provider recommends.

For pre-menopausal women, BSE is best done at the same stage of their period every month to minimize changes due to the menstrual cycle. The recommended time is just after the end of the last period when the breasts are least likely to be swollen and tender. Older, menopausal women should do BSE once a month, perhaps on the first or last day of every month.

About eight in ten lumps discovered by BSE are harmless. Nevertheless, any abnormality thus detected should immediately be reported to a doctor. Though most breast cancers are detected by women, BSE should be combined with an annual examination by a doctor for better chances of detection. Women can easily miss a breast lump that an expert can find. For the same reasons it is better to learn BSE from an expert.

BSE is not a replacement for more trustworthy techniques like mammography or an examination using MRI.

J. P. Wade runs the a Fitness and Health community,


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