By Dr Marthinus Van Rooyen, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon, MBCHB (PRET) MMED (PLASTSURG) (PRET)
October month is breast cancer awareness month, which has been implemented to raise awareness of breast health. Self-breast examinations are an integral part of breast care and it is a good habit to form once you start developing breasts.
Examinations should ideally be performed one week after your menstrual cycle to ensure that any swollen lumps caused by hormone changes have returned to normal.
A self-breast exam can be performed lying flat on your back, sitting in the bath, standing in the shower, or in front of a mirror. Raise your arm above your head on the side of the breast you want to examine and look for any dimpling on the outer skin layers. Next, in a circular or up and down motion, whilst applying pressure with the pulp of your fingers, feel for lumps in the breasts. At first, you should inspect the breast surface superficially, then proceed with a little more pressure and gradually apply pressure in order to examine the different depths of the tissue and to feel if there are any unfamiliar nodules that weren’t there before. It is important to also look for any discharge of the nipple. Bloody or greenish discharge is something that needs to be examined by your Doctor.
If you are concerned about the breast or a nodule it is advised to visit your breast center. Breast nodules are generally examined with mammography and/or sonar. From the age of 40 women should have a mammogram annually. Mammography should be complemented with sonar so that the breasts can be examined thoroughly.
Where there is a strong family history or when you have a positive cancer gene mutation we recommend sonar examination of the breasts from the age of 30 and your first mammogram at the age of 35. Thereafter, depending on the density of the breast, the radiologist will advise how often you would need to be examined.
Thermal imaging for breast cancer is not advised as a standalone method of screening as it does not detect early cancer. If your breasts are very dense, and it is difficult to assess the breast tissue with a mammogram, an MRI scan should be done to better examine the breast.
When to consult your breast clinic?
When there is abnormal dimpling of the breast, there are abnormal nodules in the breast that wasn’t there previously or that are enlarged, there is a bloody discharge or a greenish discharge from the nipple ducts, or when there is an eczema-type reaction on the nipple or the nipple-areola complex.
Self-examination of the breast is limited in that is it only allows one to feel fairly large nodules. It is therefore advised that one go for you proper mammography examinations regularly. Patients with implants won’t be hurt by mammography and the implants won’t be ruptured by doing a mammogram.
Happy Breast Cancer Awareness month.