Breast cancer is the most common cancer for women in the world. In 2012, nearly 1.7 million new cases were diagnosed (second most common cancer overall). Breast cancer is the most common cancer for women in the Kingdom, accounting for 30% of all cancer diagnoses. The incidence of breast cancer increases as a woman ages and is most common in women around menopause and the risk continues to increase as a woman gets older. Breast cancer in women in their teens or 20s is not common; however, there have been recorded breast cancer cases of women in their 20s. Therefore, breast awareness and self-examinations need to start when a woman reaches 20 years of age.
Regularly examine your breasts
It is advisable to start monthly self-exams of your breasts at the age of 20. The best time to do a breast examination is when your breasts are not tender or swollen, which is usually on the 10th day after your period starts. Women who have reached menopause or who have had a hysterectomy can do their breast exam on any day as long as they do it consistently on that day each month. Following are instructions for properly examining your breasts.
LOOK and FEEL technique
• In the shower:
Check each breast with the pads of your fingers moving them in a circular motion from the outside to the center of the entire breast, including under your armpit and around your collarbone. Feel for lumps, hard knots, or thickening or swelling. Gently squeeze your nipple and check for discharge and lumps.
• In front of the mirror:
Stand in front of a mirror and with your arms to the side and visibly check your breasts for any changes such as skin discoloration. Next, lift both arms above your head and check each breast for any changes in shape or size. Check also for skin dimpling and changes in the nipple.
• Lying Down:
With a pillow under you and your arm above your head, check each breast using the pads of your fingers in a circular motion from the outside to the center of the entire breast, including under your armpit and around your collarbone. Feel for lumps, knots, or thickening or swelling. Also gently squeeze your nipple and check for discharge and lumps.
Changes to look for
When checking your breasts look for changes such as the following:
• Breast changes in size or shape, enlargement, or swelling.
• Skin discoloration, redness, or a rash-like skin texture around the breast or around the nipple, e.g., dimpling, puckering or skin feels rough or looks like the skin of an orange.
• Nipple discharge. If you see discharge, note the discharge color.
• Lump(s) such as a hard knot or thickening of the skin. Check to see if the lump is movable or attached in one place and if it is painful.
• Nipple retracted or inverted (pulled in).
• Swelling in the armpit or around the collarbone.
• Constant pain and/or itching on any part of your breast or in your armpit.
What to do if you find breast changes that are not normal for you?
DON’T PANIC! Not all breast changes are caused by cancer. There are many reasons for your breasts to change. Some are harmless. Regardless, you should also have them checked by your physician as soon as possible. You know better than anyone what is not normal for you. So go and see your doctor if something does not seem right.
Know Your Breast Cancer Risk Factors
Aside from being breast aware, you should also be aware of your risk for developing breast cancer. If you have any of these risks, let your doctor know. Remember, early detection can save your life.
• Gender — Females are at higher risk than males; however, men do get breast cancer.
• Age — 81% of breast cancer cases are found in people over the age of 50.
• Previous history of breast or any cancer, particularly if your received radiation to the chest.
• Family history of breast cancer or any cancer — 5% to 10% of breast cancers are hereditary with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation.
• Having been diagnosed with benign breast diseases such as fibroadenoma, breast cysts, or fibrocystic changes.
• Early puberty or menstruation.
• Late menopause.
• Not currently breastfeeding or have not breastfed for a long time.
• Not having children or had children after the age of 30.
• Currently using hormone replacement therapy.
• Obesity (women who have reached menopause are at higher risk).
• Chronic smoking of any kind, including cigarettes, shisha, or cigars.
From the age of 40, women should begin having special X-rays called mammograms. They should be done annually. A mammogram can detect changes inside the breast.
B. Self-Breast Examination/Clinical Breast Examination:
Once a month do a self-breast exam. As part of your annual mammogram, your doctor should examine your breasts as the doctor may notice something you missed.
C. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI):
Women who are at high risk (have several risk factors) based on their family, medical or personal history, should have a yearly MRI as well as a mammogram. Your doctor will determine if you are at high risk, and if you are, will advise you about this test.
What You Can Do
• Self-breast exams starting at age 20.
• Annual screening mammogram starting at age 40.
• Know your risks (family, medical, and personal history).
• Eat a well-balanced diet and avoid unhealthy foods.
• Increase physical activities such as doing regular exercise.
• Maintain a healthy weight.
• Quit smoking.
• Regularly consult with your doctor and have regular clinical breast exams.
JHAH is here for you
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