Women Must Closely Watch Their Bodies: Tips for Regular Self Examination Dr Manish Singhal, Senior Medical Oncologist, Indraparastha Apollo Hospital, New Delhi; Joint Secretary (NCR) Oncology Forum
More than 60% of breast cancers in India are diagnosed in stage III or stage IV of the disease, by the time it is too late to cure the patient or significantly prolong her life. According to estimates of World Health Organization, one woman dies in India of breast cancer for every two new Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide, both in the developed and
developing countries. However, even as the incidence in India remains lower as compared to western countries, the mortality rates are much higher due to lack of awareness, absence of mass screening programs, and late diagnosis.
Early detection presents a good chance of cure and long term survival as well as of breast conservation. It also allows doctors to use less intensive and non invasive treatments that are not as harsh to the body. If detected late, however, prognosis is poor.
The majority of breast cancer deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, where most women with breast cancer are diagnosed in late stages due mainly to lack of awareness on early detection and barriers to health services.
A combination of self and clinical breast examination coupled with mammography is recommended to enable early breast cancer detection. While mammography screening can be highly expensive, it is extremely important for women to keep a close track of any changes occurring in their bodies. Any lump in the breast or underarm area, any unusual discharge from the nipple, any change in the shape or size of the breast should be taken note of and immediately reported to a doctor for further examination.
It is recommended that women perform regular self examination every month after 25, with a clinical breast examination every three years, and annual mammography after the age of 40.
Here are some tips on how to regularly monitor and examine yourself:
- The time when your period ends is the best time to subject yourself to a self breast exam because this is the time when your breasts are not tender and will help you get a clear picture.
- Use your fingers to closely go about examining the breasts to feel for any lump, itchy rash, bump or an unusually tender spot. Also look carefully for any hard spot, thickening of the tissue, dimpling or puckering of the skin. If you find one, report it immediately to a doctor.
- Raise your arms up and stand in front of the mirror. Then lower your arms gradually to your sides and watch for any unusual difference in your breasts. See if the two sides move the same distance.
- Not just the breasts but also examine the underarm area carefully. If you spot any enlarged lymph nodes, or an unexplained painful spot in the underarms you need to immediately seek medical examination.
- Watch for the nipples carefully. Any unusual discharge, swelling, itching or darkening of the skin, or rash on the nipple must be quickly referred to a doctor.
These indications might not always be a sign of breast cancer but it is important to be safe than sorry.