BREAST CANCER AWARENESS
Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women around the world and it has been widely studied throughout history. Research conducted on breast cancer has actually helped to pave the way for some breakthroughs in other types of cancer research and treatments.
Breast cancer has been around since the dawn of time, literally! In Ancient Greece people made offerings to the God of medicine in the shape of a breast, and Hippocrates described the stages of breast cancer in the early 400s BCE.
We’ve come a long way since ancient Greece, but we still have a lot to learn about how breast cancer forms, how to treat it and even prevent it.
But before any of that, we need to know our own breasts. Knowing your own breasts, knowing what is your normal and regularly checking your breasts for any signs of abnormality is incredibly important.
WHAT HAPPENS TO OUR BREASTS DURING OUR MONTHLY CYCLE
Our breasts, like the rest of our bodies, are subject to hormonal changes throughout our cycles which can result in swelling and tenderness. Our breasts can feel bigger, or smaller at certain times and the changes, if you’re unaware of why it’s happening can be unnerving and sometimes uncomfortable.
So what’s going on? The first few days of your period, the beginning of your cycle, your boobs will feel a bit lumpy. Your milk glands have enlarged over the days leading up to your menstruation as your body has been preparing for a potential pregnancy. Once your body realizes that now you’re menstruating there is no pregnancy, the glands will reduce and your breasts will even out again.
Towards the end of your menstruation your breasts will begin to subside in size. Your oestrogen and progesterone levels are at their lowest, so your breasts are also at their lowest volume. This is the time where your breasts represent their truest size as they’re not full of hormones and tend to soften up as the milk glands have reduced.
As you move through the follicular phase and approach ovulation your oestrogen levels rise and your breasts will begin to fell ‘perky’ as the hormones begin to rush back. The oestrogen gives your skin elasticity, adding a natural lift to your breasts.
After ovulation your body moves into the luteal phase. This is the time that your breasts are likely to feel their fullest as the progesterone is peaking. They can feel swollen and tender and can sometimes look more veiny due to the swelling. As you approach the start of your next menstruation this will begin to subside slightly as the oestrogen levels reduce. This can sometimes cause your breasts to look different from each other. They may look lopsided. Most women’s breasts are never identical, however in this time of the cycle it can be more visually obvious as the oestrogen levels taper off. Once your period arrives you boobs will even out, and they’ll start the cycle all over again just like the rest of your body does!
HAVE YOU CHECKED YOUR BREASTS?
Knowing your own breasts and making regular self-breast checks, are a good way to know if something abnormal appears.
Due to the cycle changes that our breasts go through each month, the best time to examine your breasts is usually 1 week after your menstrual period starts, when your breasts are least likely to be swollen or tender and your hormones aren’t adding any swollen glands or ducts to make things more difficult. Examining your breasts at other times in your menstrual cycle may make it hard to compare results of one examination with another due to any premenstrual swelling.
So set an alert on your phone, a note on the calendar or another memory trigger to make sure you check your breasts.
If your menstrual cycle is irregular, or if you have stopped menstruating due to menopause or the removal of your uterus, do your examination on a day of the month that's easy to remember.
HOW DO YOU SELF-CHECK YOUR BREASTS?
You can check your breasts in the shower, looking in the mirror and lying down.
When you’re in the shower use a little extra soap to make the movements easy. If you’re lying down on your bed or flat surface, your breast tissue spreads out making it easier to check all of the tissue.
Use your opposite arm to check each breast, left arm to check your right breast, right arm to check your left. With the pads/flats of your 3 middle fingers, check the entire breast and armpit area pressing down with light, medium, and firm pressure in circular motions. Check both breasts each month feeling for any lump, thickening, hardened knot, or any other breast changes.
Visually inspect your breasts in the mirror with your arms at your sides. Next, raise your arms high overhead.
Look for any changes in the contour shape of your breast, any swelling, or dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples.
When in doubt about a particular lump or irregular changes ask for a medical opinion.
It doesn’t take long, and once you’re in the routine of checking every month, it’ll become normal.
The Johns Hopkins Medical centre states, “Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important.”