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How to perform a breast self-exam

In the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, BreastScreen centres around most of Australia are unfortunately having to temporarily close. That’s why now, more than ever, self-breast checks at home are important.

Like any other aspect of your health; dental check-ups, monitoring your blood pressure, eating a balanced diet or carrying out weekly exercise, breast self-examinations should be a regular part of your health routine.

A breast self-exam is a technique which allows an individual to examine their breast tissue for any physical or visual changes, in an attempt to detect early signs of breast cancer.

Download your Breast Self-Check Guide

Most Australian women know what a breast self-exam is, and how important they are. A breast self-exam cannot precisely detect and identify breast cancer. However, breast self-exams are still encouraged because individuals are more likely to identify unfamiliar lumps and visual and physical changes to their breasts that might be indicative of breast cancer.

How often should you perform breast self-exams?

Breast self-exams should be performed once a month. The speed of growth of breast cancer tumours depends on a wide range of factors, such as the type of breast cancer, but once a month is considered appropriate timing to detect any changes in the breast.

‘53 Australians are diagnosed with breast cancer every single day, with two diagnosed every hour.’

Don’t be complacent. Although you may not think you’re at high risk of developing breast cancer because it may not be a part of your family history, or you may lead a very healthy lifestyle, it doesn’t mean you’re not at risk. You may have also done a breast self-exam in the last month, but cancer can grow rapidly which is why regular breast checks are necessary. Perform your exams every month.

Who should be performing breast self-exams?

Breast cancer affects both men and women, because both men and women have breast tissue. Men account for less than one percent of diagnosed breast cancer in Australia but that does not make it less necessary to perform breast self-exams. Last year alone over 30 Australian men lost their lives to breast cancer.

Anyone can get breast cancer. Men and women. Young and old.

At what point should you see your doctor?

If you notice an irregularity in the shape or appearance of your breast(s), be concerned but don’t panic. Nine times out of 10, breast lumps are benign (non-cancerous and harmless). However, if you find any unusual changes in your breasts like a lump, change in shape or look, seek immediate advice from your doctor for a professional examination.

Remember, your monthly self-exams are not guaranteed to detect breast cancer, but you can increase early detection and therefore improve your treatment outcomes. In addition to your breast self-exams, clinical breast exams (performed by medical professionals) should be carried out. Women between the ages of 50 and 74 will be invited by BreastScreen Australia for a free mammogram every two years. Women aged between 40 and 49, or 75 and older should talk to their GP about whether they should have a free screening mammogram. Women who have a history of breast cancer in their family should seek advice from medical professionals for managing their own risk.

“As everyone knows early detection makes all the difference…I’ve got no doubt that if Anni was diagnosed just 2 months before she’d still be here” – Mark, NBCF Ambassador.

If you have downloaded our breast self-exam guide and read through our other resources about breast self-exams, but you’re still not confident in what to do, it might be worth speaking to other women in your network or your GP for extra guidance.

Get familiar with your body and your routine

There is nothing wrong with being body self-aware, in fact, it might save your life. Outside of your self-exams you should always be aware of little changes to your body. This way, when you do visit your doctor you can explain your specific concerns or flag the recent changes with them.

A great way to keep track of your changes is by making a note of when you notice differences in your breasts. It’s as simple as tracking your changes or concerns in a notepad or jotting down points in your phone notes.

Download your Breast Self-Check Guide

Managing anxiety around breast self-exams

You may feel a sense of relief once you have completed your monthly breast self-exam and discovered no new changes to your breasts.

In the same breath, you may also experience anxiety leading into your next self-exam. This feeling can manifest fear and distress, causing negative or worrying thoughts. These feelings are completely normal and there are a range of online resources available to help with your anxieties. However, it is important that you continue to do your monthly breast checks and monitor your breasts for changes.

Offer yourself a sense of calm by reminding yourself that the self-exams exist to protect your health and potentially, your life. You can always reach out to your doctor if you don’t want to do it alone or if you’re experiencing anxiety around self-examination.

Five points to remember.

  1. It is OK for it to feel strange about self-exams when performing them initially.
  2. Don’t become complacent about your risk of developing breast cancer no matter how healthy your lifestyle might be or the absence of any family history of breast cancer.
  3. Women and men can be diagnosed with breast cancer. Anybody can.
  4. Be self-aware about your body and any changes it has.
  5. When in doubt, speak to your doctor. If still in doubt, get a second opinion.

Together, we can stop breast cancer

Since 1994, NBCF has invested $181 million into 557 world-class research projects.

We are fund world-class research projects to help further understand risk factors, develop new ways to treat and monitor breast cancer, improve quality of life for breast cancer patients, improve treatment outcomes and ultimately – save more lives.

Help stop deaths from breast cancer, we can’t do it without you.