If you’re not 100% sure about how to examine your breasts, here is a guide by Dr Liana Roodt, specialist breast and endocrine surgeon

Breast cancers may be the most common types of cancer among South African women, but early detection can save lives.

Many women get nervous about self-examinations and don’t feel comfortable with this, but it is something that every woman should do regularly, and it isn’t as complicated as it seems.

“Early detection is key, which is why self-examinations are so important,” says Dr Liana Roodt, specialist breast and endocrine surgeon at Advanced Vergelegen day hospital.

“By knowing your own body, you will be able to detect subtle changes,” says Dr Roodt, who is also the founder of Project Flamingo, a non-profit organisation that funds timely surgery for newly-diagnosed and existing breast cancer patients.

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Here is her guide to examining your breast:

Step 1:

Begin by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your hands on your hips.

Your breasts should be their usual size, shape and colour, and should be evenly shaped without visible distortion or swelling.

If you see any of the following changes, bring them to your doctor’s attention:

  • dimpling
  • puckering or bulging of the skin
  • a nipple that has changed position
  • an inverted nipple (pushed inward instead of sticking out)

Step 2:

Now, raise your arms and again look for any visible changes.

Step 3:

While you’re at the mirror, look for any signs of fluid coming out of one or both nipples (this could be a watery, milky or yellow fluid, or blood). This is not necessarily a sign of cancer but should be brought to the attention of your doctor.

If you do feel something in your breast that should not be there, do not panic, this does not necessarily mean that you have breast cancer… – Dr Liana Roodt

Step 4:

Next, lie down on your back to feel your breasts.

Use your right hand to feel your left breast and then your left hand to feel your right breast. Use a firm, smooth touch with the first few finger pads of your hand, keeping the fingers flat and together. Check in small circular motions, about the size of a five-rand coin.

Cover the entire breast from top to bottom, side to side – from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen, and from your armpit to your cleavage.

Follow a pattern to be sure that you cover the whole breast. Begin at the nipple, moving in larger and larger circles until you reach the outer edge of the breast. Or you could move your fingers up and down vertically, in rows, as if you were mowing a lawn. This up-and-down approach seems to work best for most women.

Be sure to feel all the tissue from the front to the back of your breasts: for the skin and tissue just beneath you fingers, use light pressure; use medium pressure for the middle layers of tissue; use firm pressure for the deep breast tissue near your ribcage. When you’ve reached the deep tissue, you should be able to feel down to your ribcage.

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Step 5:

Finally, feel your breasts while you are standing or sitting. Many women find that the easiest way to feel their breasts is when their skin is wet and slippery, so they like to do this step in the shower.

Cover your entire breast, using the same hand movements described in step 4.

“If you do feel something in your breast that should not be there, do not panic, this does not necessarily mean that you have breast cancer and could be a number of other things. However, if you find a lump make an appointment with your doctor and have it seen to,” explains Dr Roodt.

Although self-examination is a great preventative measure, ask your doctor to do a clinical breast examination once a year and discuss the benefits of a screening mammogram with your clinician – especially if you have a family history of breast cancer or are over the age of 40. Or you could contact your nearest Advanced Health day hospital for assistance in finding a doctor to assist you, or for more information on where to get an examination or screening.

“It is worth dedicating a few minutes each month to self-examinations. Let us do whatever we can to educate each other and ourselves on breast health,” concludes Dr Roodt.

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.