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It’s been ages since you have had a shower in peace. With the kids napping and the chores almost done, you’ve decided to pop in the shower for a long relaxing bath. This might be the best time to just unwind and relax. However, there is just one other thing you can do in the comfort of your shower- a breast examination.

If you are thinking, I don’t need that! I am still young, I eat right and have a healthy BMI. There is no chance I would have breast cancer because cancer affects obese, people right? Wrong! Cancer can happen to any one. It is the most dreaded C-word that nobody wants to hear about. Now that you’ve decided to give it a thought. Let’s look into how you can examine yourself for signs of breast cancer.

What should you be looking for in a breast self examination

  • Make sure that you get a good view of both your breasts.
  • Breasts must be evenly shaped without any distortion or swelling.
  • Be careful about any wrinkling, dimpling, puckering or suspicious bulge on the breast or the nipple.
  • A nipple that has changed its position inward.
  • Pain in the breast tissue when you lift your hands or stretch.
  • Redness or swelling in the breast.
  • Any dry crusty matter on the nipples.
  • Any fluid oozing out of the nipple.
  • The color of the fluid can be colorless and watery, milky, yellowy or even blood stained.

How to give yourself a breast examination

Step #1 Take your top off and stand in front of a mirror to get a closer look at your breast. Keep your shoulders and back straight and hands on your hips. This would help you get a better view of any abnormalities mentioned above.

Step #2 Raise both your arms nice and tight above your head. Take a closer look at the sides as well, with your arms still raised.

Step #3 For this step, you need to use your right hand and feel your left breast with your left arm raised high. In this step, you would need to use three type of strokes with your fingers kept together.

  • Use gentle circular motions starting at the nipple, and then slowly go outward. Following a pattern would help you cover the entire breast properly. Women have found the up to down pattern easy than a spiral or circular one.
  • Do not prod or poke the breast tissue.
  • At the thinner part of your breast tissue use gentle pressure.
  • At the fuller part of the breast tissue use more pressure (not the type which would make you squeal out in pain).
  • For the deep tissue towards the back, use much more pressure so that you can feel your rib cage.
  • Now using your left hand examine your right breast with the right arm raised above your head.

Tip- It helps if your hands are slippery. This will help identify lumps faster with smooth gliding movements.

Step #4 This step involves the same procedure as mentioned above with only one difference. You have to lie down for this examination. Complete examining both the breasts all the way from the collar bone to the top of your tummy. Also do the same for each breast all the way from the armpits to the cleavage area. This way you get to complete the examination thoroughly for the entire breast tissue. You can be sure you wont miss out any areas.

Why go to all this trouble

Oh, bother. It all sounds so tedious and stressful. How often do you have to do this, one may ask? Every month is the correct answer. Set reminders on your phone, write it down in your calendar or write it on your forehead for all I care. It is paramount that women get down to doing a breast examination every month. If you identify as high risk for breast cancer, you must undergo a regular annual mammogram test and the regular examination by your doctor. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States after skin cancer. This is reason enough to make you want to get out of your bed and go do a breast examination.

Who needs to do a breast examination?

It is highly advised that all women older than 20 years do a regular monthly self-breast examination. So if you were wondering when you should get a clinical breast exam scheduled, here it is. For all women above the age of 20, a clinical breast exam must be done once every 3-4 years and if you are pushing 40 you should get one done every year.

When in the menstrual cycle should you do a breast examination?

Women everywhere can attest to the fact that breasts behave as if they have a mind of their own in each phase of the menstrual cycle. They swell up and feel fuller just before and during menstruation. Probably the only perk of being on your period when compared to the painful cramps! There could be tenderness in the breasts as well. During this time, the last thing you want to do is prod your boobie friends. Once Aunt Flo has made a graceful exit, in about another few days your bosom has other problems because of ovulation! Breast tenderness, tingly feeling or soreness in the breasts are very common during ovulation. So when exactly do you do a breast examination with such a lot of things happening to your breasts every month!

So, you don’t exactly have to wait for the stars to align favorably to get to check your breast health. Doctors suggest that the best time to do a monthly self-breast examination is about 3 to 5 days after Aunt Flo has paid a visit. Your breasts are not terrible sore or lumpy at this time in your monthly cycle. This could make you more relaxed and will help you rule out any false alarms. It is recommended that you do a breast exam at the same time every month.

So, if you fall under the category of women who have long bid farewell to Aunt Flo, blessed are ye. You should do your exam on the same day every month. We know menopause can be hard for you, what with the hot flashes, night sweats and stuff! But did you know that menopausal women are at increased risk for developing cancer thanks to all the increase in estrogen. So get to it women!

Can men get breast cancer?

It may seem like such a silly question. However, think of it this way. Breast tissue was the same in both boys and girls before they hit puberty. Breast cancer in men is rare but it is not something that never occurs. The symptoms of breast cancer is the same as the ones in women. Men are known to postpone when it comes to getting a suspicious lump checked. Delaying this can be life threatening.

Survival rates of breast cancer in men is average. There is nothing to be embarrassed about paying a visit to the doctors if you suspect a lump in your chest. It doesn’t make you any less of a man. Be wise, take the correct step.

So, what do you do if you’ve found something awry in your breast self-exam?

First and foremost, Do not panic! I repeat. Do not panic! Most abnormal findings in a self-exam are not breast cancer. For all you know, it could be just a benign breast problem and nothing cancerous at all! However, it’s absolutely crucial that you do not delay follow-up. If breast cancer is found, it is best that it is treated at the earliest. So the course of action decided by your doctor would be to put you through some less invasive tests like mammogram and if they still find something fishy, they would run a few tests like a biopsy.

Research findings on breast cancer

High cholesterol

If you were thinking there is nothing good about high cholesterol. You are sadly mistaken, my friend. Statins have a protective effect and high cholesterol can in fact protect women against breast cancer. It was also found that compared to those without high cholesterol, patients who had high cholesterol had a 45% reduced risk of breast cancer. Also, in case they developed breast cancer they had a 40% reduced chance of death. Statins can be a further area of research to treat breast cancer and also to reduce mortality.

Blame it on bacteria

From good bacteria to bad bacteria- we’ve heard it all. We’ve read about how an imbalance in bacterial flora can cause a lot of harm to the body. Turns out we can also blame bacteria for cancer. It was long suspected that a microbe that is present in the breast tissue is responsible for breast cancer. Cleveland Clinic researchers have revealed that healthy breast tissue contains more of the bacterial species Methylobacterium. In this study bacterial cultures in the mouth as well as urine was examined. It was found that, urine samples of cancer patients had more gram positive bacteria. This included bacteria like Staphylococcus and Actinomyces.

The main aspect of this research was to find out pro-cancer bacteria. By targeting these pro-cancer bacteria, we could put a speed breaker on the spread of cancer. The team also believed that new treatments can be devised with the help of nanotechnology. With such cutting edge technology we can deliver antibiotics directly to the bacterial community to combat breast cancer.

Oh sugar-thou art a culprit

Sugar was long believed to fuel cancer. Cancer cells require higher levels of sugar when compared to normal cells. This characteristic of reliance on sugar distinguishes cancer cells from normal cells. This is often used as a treatment to kill cancer cells in the body. The cancer cells are starved of sugar and new research by Duke-NUS Medical School have revealed that sugar depletion can only slow down the rate of cancer progression and not put a full stop to cancer.

The research team also found that sugar has a unique capability whereby its deprivation triggered voltage differences across the cell membrane of cancer cells. This led to an influx of calcium ions into the cells leading to cell death. So with a combination of decreasing sugar content and increasing the calcium ion concentration, the researchers were capable of killing cancer cells. This could be a novel and effective treatment for cancer.

Increased fat levels increase breast cancer risk

BMI is often thought of as the ultimate indicator of the how fat you are. But did you know that you could have a healthy BMI and also high levels of fat in the body. Say what?! BMI is not the most accurate way to determine fat levels in the body. This is because BMI does not distinguish between muscle mass and bone density. Researchers published by American Association for Cancer Research reveal that post menopausal women who had normal BMI but higher fat levels in their bodies were at a higher risk for developing breast cancer. An eye opening revelation was that risk of breast cancer increased by 35 percent for every 5-kilogram increase in whole body fat.

Celebrities who were diagnosed with cancer

Angelina Jolie: One of the most pretty faces in Hollywood, she has charmed us with her deep set eyes and her pouty lips. However, Jolie is well known for having undergone preventive double mastectomy after she found out she had a genetic mutation that greatly increased her risk of developing fatal breast cancer. She had undergone reconstructive surgery soon after. She has said in a press conference that she felt no less of a woman and that she was passionate about raising awareness in other women.

Kylie Minogue: The famous Australian singer-songwriter is also a cancer survivor who went through misdiagnosis and almost lost her life. Luckily it was not too late for her recovery. She had to undergo a partial mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation treatment to beat cancer.

Wanda Sykes: The famous American actress and comedian is also a brave cancer survivor. Although Sykes was diagnosed with  ductal carcinoma in situ which is a is a non-invasive stage zero breast cancer, she decided to undergo a bilateral mastectomy to reduce her chances of getting breast cancer.