Issues and Challenges

Breast Cancer: Self-Examination at Home for Early Detection

Breast cancer is a condition in which cells in one or both breasts have abnormal growth that can occur in different parts of the breast/s. It is also commonly known to develop in the ducts or lobules in breasts. Cancer may spread to other parts of the body through blood vessels and lymph vessels. When breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it is said to have metastasized. It can occur in both men and women but is more common in women. Researchers identify that a change in hormones, lifestyle or environment increases the risk of breast cancer in women. According to doctors, five to ten percent of breast cancers are linked to gene mutation. Inherited mutated genes are likely to increase the risk of getting breast cancer.

The risk of getting breast cancer has increased over time in Pakistan, whereby according to some studies one in every nine women has a lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer. The age-standardized occurrence rate of breast cancer in Pakistan is steadily rising and unfortunately, the rate of deaths due to breast cancer is also rising in the country, due to late diagnosis and delayed referral to appropriate facilities. This can be prevented if proper awareness is generated and women are able to recognize early signs and symptoms. It is important to understand that breast self-examination at home can help women figure out if something is wrong so that they can report abnormalities to their doctor.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer
Most breast cancer symptoms are indiscernible and cannot be detected without the help of professional screening, but some symptoms can be identified at an early stage with the help of self-examination. You may experience these changes if you are suffering from breast cancer: a knot or lump near the armpit, increased thickening or fullness in the breast, an inverted nipple, bloody nipple discharge, pain, redness, or swelling in the breast, rash, itching, scales, bulges, dimples, or ridges on the skin.
Performing self-examination at home can increase the chances of finding breast cancer at an early stage. This will help limit the size of the tumor, because if it is diagnosed at a later stage then is likely to spread faster. Self-examination at home should be conducted as regularly as possible but at least once every month. While conducting self-examination you need to see if there is change in size and shape, change in the skin colour (look for redness), nipple inversion, scaling or crusting or flaking around the nipple area. Search for lumps, thickening, or hardened knots with the help of your fingers. Squeeze your nipples to check for discharge. Follow the techniques mentioned below to examine your breasts:
While showering
Check the breasts and armpits while showering. Apply soap on your fingers and move them in a circular motion, from the outside of the breast to the centre. 
In front of a mirror
Carefully look at your breasts while standing with your arms on the side and then with your arms raised over the head. Place the palms on the hips and press firmly to flex the chest muscles. It is common if both breasts do not match. Look for wrinkling, deflation, or crumpling. 
Lying down
Lie down and place a pillow under the left shoulder and place the left arm behind the head. Move the fingers of the right hand around the left breast. Work in a gentle circular motion to cover the entire breast and armpit, applying pressure. When done, switch sides. Lying down makes the breast tissue thinner and easier to examine.Changes in lifestyle may help reduce the risk of breast cancer. Regularly go to the doctor and get screening for breast cancer done. Familiarize yourself with your breasts, this will help you with self-examination at home. Breast awareness will not prevent breast cancer, but it may help you understand the normal changes that occur in the breasts. Aim for at least 15-20 minutes exercise daily. You may choose to incorporate a Mediterranean diet in your meal plan. It primarily consists of fish, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, potatoes, fruits, Extra Virgin Olive Oil and small amounts of red meat. It limits the amount of processed foods and refined sugar and is known to improve the bio-availability of important nutrients needed to fight cancer cells. Clinical studies show that the Mediterranean diet is effective in preventing cancer in both men and women.
Balanced diet, regular exercise, self-examination and regular check-ups will help in early detection, which will allow you to have increased number of treatment options and better survival rate. Be strong lovely women, you are not alone in this fight, teams of doctors and nurses along with your friends and family are there for you. Never be ashamed of yourself and remember that breast cancer is treatable but vigilance is key. HH

The writer is a doctor, teacher and a holistic healer.
Email:[email protected]

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