Breasts and Their Bobbly Bits – Breast Cancer & How to do a Breast Exam

Yes they give us back pain occasionally and are a nightmare squeezing into a sports bra, but they are comforting, make us feel feminine and serve a beautiful purpose when we feed our newborns.

breastsYet despite their important role, do we really show them much care and attention? The American Cancer Society estimate in 2014 there will be 232,570 new cases of invasive breast cancer in the US alone with 40,000 of those diagnosed, dying from the disease. Yet despite this, only a small number of women admit to regular breast examinations. and Cancer Research UK recommend thorough monthly breast examinations performed either by yourself, your partner, or by a qualified physician.

Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump. Knowing your breasts well helps to identify small changes early. This increases your chances of survival by diagnosing cancer sooner rather than later.


Performing a Breast Exam

Many patients believe finding a lump during a breast exam is the key to self-examination. As much as this is true, it is not the only sign or symptom of breast cancer. Missing other important warning features can delay diagnosis.

Pall Mall Medical recommend you perform the following at least once a month…

1) Take off your shirt and bra and sit upright in front of a mirror large enough to visualise both breasts comfortably.

2)  With your arms by your sides look for any changes in contour, swelling, dimpling of the skin and changes in your nipple such as the nipple becoming inverted or showing evidence of discharge. The discharge could be milky, watery or even look like blood.

3)  Repeat this inspection with your arms upright and then again with you hands behind your head.


4)  Lie down and put your fingers flat and together. Using your right hand to examine your left breast and your left hand to examine your right breast, start circular movements over your entire breast tissue. Use the pads of your three fingers to feel for changes/lumps. Be careful to include the nipple tissue.

5)  Be sure to include the entire area from your collar bone to the top of your abdomen and left to right across your entire chest. Some like to work in circles, others up and down or side to side in layers.

6)  Now feel the tissue in your armpit. This may sound strange as there isn’t any breast tissue here. Lumps felt in the armpit can signify lymph nodes with malignant changes that may have spread from the breast.

7)   Repeat the entire examination of your breasts whilst standing. Some like to do this in the shower as they find it easier to feel underneath the skin whilst the skin is moist.


Never feel embarrassed if this does not make sense. Your local healthcare practitioner is there to support and educate you. Pall Mall Medical have highly skilled, sensitive doctors and nursing staff who are happy to help.


Risk Factors

As with any disease condition, there will be people that are slightly more at risk than others. This does not mean those without risk factors can relax – anyone can develop breast cancer and everyone should perform self-examination.

Some, however, should be extra vigilant. Risk factors include:

  • A previous breast cancer diagnosis
  • Family history of breast cancer in a first-degree relative (i.e. mother/sister)
  • Carrying mutations in BRCA1, BRCA2 and TP53 genes. Anyone with a first-degree relative should have a blood test to identify whether they have the mutations.
  • Increasing age. Less than 25% of breast cancers are diagnosed in those less than 35.
  • Not having any children before the age of 30.
  • Starting periods at a young age.
  • Late menopause.
  • High alcohol intake.
  • Taking HRT (hormone replacement therapy) for long periods of time.


Breast Cancer statistics

The American Cancer Society estimates breast cancer figures for women in the United States, 2014 will include:

  • About 232,570 new cases of invasive breast cancer
  • About 62,570 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) of the breast will be found (the most non-invasive form of breast cancer)
  • About 40,000 deaths from breast cancer
  • Breast Cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States, other than skin cancer. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, after lung cancer.
  • Presently the chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer during her life is about 1 in 8.
  • The chance of dying from breast cancer is about 1 in 36.

Breast cancer death rates have been going down which is probably the result of finding cancer earlier and having better treatment.

With this in mind;


Don’t Delay Get Checking Today…

Pall Mall Medical is happy to discuss your concerns, detail how you can limit your chances of breast cancer and to arrange testing for the breast cancer genes you may have inherited from family members. We can perform a breast examination and teach you how to perform a safe home, monthly examinations. Please encourage your partners, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters and friends to do the same. Breast cancer can affect anyone.

This post was written by Dr Jenna Burton, a Pall Mall Medical expert.

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