General & Reproductive Health
Breast / Chest Checks
Breast / chest health
Breast conditions are among the most common health concerns of women and can affect women at any age. The development of breast tissue usually begins around puberty, and continues to undergo various changes throughout life. Breast tissue changes occur each menstrual cycle, and also with pregnancy, lactation and with advancing age.
Other than the normal physiological changes, the breast may also undergo a few other changes which may be a cause of anxiety among women. Breast checks are a vital preventative tool. Methods include self-inspection, clinical examinations and the use of diagnostic devices, most commonly a mammogram.
What is breast self-examination?
Regular breast self-examination (BSE) is the simplest way to notice changes to the breasts which may indicate a health issue that needs further investigation. While self-examination cannot take the place of more thorough examination by a doctor, they are the first line of defence because they can be done more frequently.
Because every woman’s body is different, every woman’s breasts look and feel different. It’s important that women become familiar with what is normal for their own breasts; how they look and feel. Some are lumpy, some are different sizes, some nipples are inverted, and some are different shapes.
Self-exams can be done regularly in the bath or shower or when getting dressed. It is important that during a self-exam, all parts of the breast are checked, from the armpits and collarbone to the breast tissue itself. The most important part of the self-exam breast check is to be aware of any changes or differences to the usual look and feel of your breasts.
What is a breast check?
Clinical examinations are also a useful method of performing breast checks and form an important part of any woman’s health maintenance. They are performed by a doctor and should be done at least every two years, often at the time of cervical screening (Pap smear). Clinical examinations are also necessary when a self-exam reveals unusual changes to a woman’s breasts and can guide further investigation.
Diagnostic devices may be used for breast checks under a range of scenarios. Breast screening or mammography can detect breast cancer prior to symptoms appearing or when lumps are noted. Screening mammography allows possible cancers to be identified early, in the period that surgery is likely to be the most successful, providing the best chance of effective treatment. It is recommended that women over the age of 50 get a mammogram every two years.
What are the symptoms of breast cancer?
The symptoms of breast cancer can include a persistent irregularity or lump within the breast or near the underarm, swelling around the breast, changes in the appearance of the breast or nipple, nipple discharge which may be blood-stained or clear fluid, hardness or dimpling felt over the breast or any unusual changes in the breast.
Other symptoms to look out for are redness or flaky skin in the nipple or breast area, pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area, and pain in any area of the breast. Any significant changes to the breast should be investigated, making breast checks an important way of detecting early breast cancer.