Breast Cancer Awareness - Feel Yourself!

By Monica P

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The synonymous pink ribbon, used as a symbol of moral support and solidarity for breast cancer sufferers, is likely to be extra prominent this month. 

Breast cancer typically forms in the lining cells of the ducts (85%) or lobules (15%) in the glandular tissue of the breast. The growth is usually confined to the duct or lobule in the beginning stages and causes no symptoms and has low risk of spreading (metastasis). 

According to the WHO, breast cancer is the most common cause of cancer death among women worldwide, in Indonesia too. 16.7% of cancer cases in Indonesia are breast cancer, and that figure doubles when looking at cancer cases amongst Indonesian women. 

Breast cancer can be treated if detected early and the patient makes lifestyle changes. 

That’s because if found early, there are more treatment options and a better chance for survival. 

Studies have shown that if detected at an early stage, women have a 93% or higher survival rate in the first five years. Unfortunately, a survey conducted by BMC Women’s Health found that breast cancer when first diagnosed in women in Indonesia is often at an advanced stage. This is primarily because of the stigma and negative perceptions towards breast cancer amongst women in Indonesia, in addition to financial challenges and access to adequate healthcare, that women are not aware or put off going for their breast cancer screenings.

 

Detection of Breast Cancer

Now, what are the ways that breast cancer can be detected? Tests and procedures commonly used to detect breast cancer includes: 

  • Breast exam
  • Mammogram
  • Breast ultrasound
  • Biopsy*
  • Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

*Biopsy is the only definitive way to diagnose breast cancer

Besides going for a breast screening, typically involving a breast exam and mammogram, regularly, you can also conduct at home breast self-examinations at the same time every month to familiarize yourself with how your breasts look and feel so that you’re aware of any changes that may occur. 

 

Breast Self Examination

The recommended time to do a breast exam is a few days after your period. This is because your hormones can affect the size and feel of your breasts. Therefore, you should conduct your breast self examination when your breasts are in their normal state. 

Pro Tip: Keep a journal, phone note or excel sheet of these self-exams, this will help you keep a track record and also aid your consultations with your medical professional. 

You can do these recommended checks in front of the mirror, in the shower, lying down, in the shower and by checking for discharge.

1. In front of the mirror (with your hands by your side): visually inspect yourself for changes in size, shape, symmetry, and color of your breasts and nipples

    1. Repeat the same inspection with  your hands above your head
    2. And again, while lifting each breast one at a time

breast cancer self exam in mirror

2. In the shower (with one hand over your head): use your other hand, with varying pressure, to feel your breasts for any lumps or spots using an up and down motion, and again, using a spiral motion. Be sure to cover all the way from your nipples to the top of your breast near the collarbone and the sides of your breasts near your armpit.

breast cancer self exam in shower

3. Lying down: follow the same method as in the shower. Some may find this is easier to inspect as your breast tissue spreads more evenly.

breast cancer self exam lying down4. Check for discharge: Gently squeeze the nipple to check for any discharge.

breast cancer self exam check for nipple discharge

After a Breast Self Examination

If you notice any lumps or changes to your breasts, make an appointment with your healthcare provider to be safe and have your breasts professionally checked! 

Don’t panic! For the most part, changes in your breasts and other abnormalities will turn out to be benign or noncancerous. Breast lumps may arise due to hormonal changes, benign tumors in your breast tissue or milk ducts, or bruised/dead/injured fat tissue. 

Even though only October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we should continue to raise awareness and talk about it all year long. Here at Nona our mission is to discuss the taboo topics and break the stigma surrounding all things related to women’s health. 

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