Big or small, high or low – no matter what your breasts look like, celebrate them this October by observing Breast Cancer Awareness Month and making sure you get your breasts checked. Breast cancer is the one of the most common cancers in women, with an average of one in eight women affected by the disease in their lifetime. Breast cancer also affects one in every 1000 men.

One of the most significant factors in determining how successful breast cancer treatment will be is early detection. If the cancer can be caught before it has begun to spread, you will have a much higher chance of a full recovery. The first step to early detection is performing a self-examination of your breasts. All women, from teenager to post-menopausal, should be giving themselves a breast exam at least once a month. It takes about a minute for each breast and these two minutes can literally save your life.

There are 03 steps to a breast self-exam:

  1. Standing up, use the pads of your fingers to feel your breast. Move around the breast in a circular pattern from the outside towards the nipple. Check the entire breast and armpit area for any lump, thickening, hardening or knots.
  2. Visually inspect your breasts in the mirror. Hold your arms at your sides and then raise them high over your head. Look for any changes in contour, any kind of swelling, dimpling of the skin or changes in the nipples.
  3. Lie down and place a pillow under your right shoulder and put your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand, feel around the breast with varying pressure. Look for any lumps or abnormalities. Squeeze the nipple and check for any discharge or lumps. Repeat with your left breast.

If you notice anything abnormal during a breast exam, make an appointment with a healthcare professional as soon as possible. You should also get checked out if you notice:

A change in how the breast or nipple feels. Any kind of unexplained tenderness, enlargement of the pores or dimpling is cause for concern.

A change in breast or nipple appearance. An unexplained change in size (swelling or shrinking) especially if only on one side, any recent asymmetry of the breasts or if the skin becomes red, scaly or sore will need to be checked out.

Any nipple discharge – particularly clear or bloody discharge is not normal and needs to be examined by a doctor. If you experience a milky discharge when you are not breastfeeding, you should also be checked by a doctor although this is not usually linked to breast cancer. More often than not, these symptoms do not mean you have breast cancer, but it is important to have any breast cancer symptoms addressed and treated immediately to prevent the situation from worsening. There are times that even if a woman does not show any symptoms, her doctor will order further tests based on family history and personal medical history.

When a person has been diagnosed with breast cancer, their healthcare team will establish a stage of the cancer to communicate how far the disease has progressed. The staging is based on the size of the tumour in the breast, the number of lymph nodes affected and signs indicating whether or not the cancer has invaded other organs in the body.

Stage 0 and 1 represent the earliest detection of breast cancer, at these stages the cancer cells are confined to a very limited area. At Stage 2 and 2A, the cancer is still in the very early stages but there is evidence that it has begun to grow or spread but is still contained in the breast area and is generally effectively treated. Stage 3A, B and C mean the cancer is relatively advanced with evidence of cancer surrounding the tissues near the breast and Stage 4 indicates that the cancer has spread beyond the breast to other areas of the body.

If you are diagnosed with breast cancer and the stage has been determined, treatment options can then be discussed. One of the most important decisions a patient can make is finding the right doctor. You have to feel comfortable with your doctor and be able ask all the questions you need to. Breast cancer treatments are evolving all the time and your doctor may discuss standard treatments as well as clinical trials with you. Be sure to understand everything and be informed enough to make the right decision.

There are a few different treatment options available today including:

Surgery: Surgery is the most common form of treatment for breast cancer and this involves removing the tumour from the breast. Surgical options may include a lumpectomy, partial mastectomy, or a radical mastectomy and reconstruction.

Chemotherapy: This is a common form of treatment for most types of cancers that uses a combination of drugs to destroy or inhibit the growth of cancer cells.

Radiation: Also called radiotherapy, this treatment uses high energy rays to kill the cancer cells. It can affect the nearby skin and only affects the part of the body that is treated with radiation.

Hormone therapy: If the cancer cells have hormone receptors, hormone therapy drugs such as blockers or inhibitors can be used to destroy the cancer cells by cutting off their supply of hormones.

Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy uses drugs that block the growth of cancers in specific ways, often reducing side effects.

Nutrition and physical activity: Taking care of yourself before, during and after breast cancer treatment is very important. Your body needs the strength and energy and needs to be physically fit enough to handle whatever treatment option you decide on.

Breast cancer is a scary ordeal for anyone to have to go through and can be tough on everyone around them too, but it is treatable, and it is possible to recover from it and live a normal and healthy life. Be informed and pass this information on during Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October, you could end up saving a life.