October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and we decided to honour the occasion by providing some information about the pros and cons of breast self- examination.

A breast self-exam, as the name suggests, is a do-it-yourself test geared towards early detection, as far as breast cancer symptoms are concerned.

According to Dr Derria Cornwall, women 40 years and older should start doing regular checks on their breasts by visiting their doctors for routine screenings at least once per year. Women younger than 40 are encouraged to conduct self examinations for early detection purposes.

Contrary to popular belief, she said, breast self-examinations have not significantly decreased the numbers of breast cancer patients. Routine screenings have been the major contributor to the drop in numbers. Screenings can detect signs of cancer before there are symptoms. However, breast self- examinations are still valuable as they encourage awareness of the body.

“And it is for this reason we encourage self examinations. The mammogram might project a false negative and there’s a 10 per cent chance that it may not show abnormality, so if you still feel a lump, with the mammogram being negative, then it is recommended that a further checks be done in the form of an ultrasound, as a second opinion so to speak, just to be sure that you’re in the clear,” said Dr Cornwall.

The best time to do a breast self-examination, according to the doctor, is after the menstrual cycle has passed. “Your breasts might be lumpy before and during your period, so the best time to conduct the test is after,” Dr Cornwall highlighted.

Stand in the shower or lay on the bed. Examine from the outward-in by patting with a firm, smooth touch, clockwise around the circumference of the breast until you reach the nipple, then look out for any changes such as shifting or rashes that may be a sign of Paget’s disease.

Do not ignore any lump you feel. If you feel something, don’t stay at home and wait to see if it will go away. Go to the doctor immediately.

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