Self Breast Exam-How it Could Save Your Life

Women Above 40 years Should have a Breast Cancer Mammogram Every Year

Breast cancer is common, with a chance of a woman getting it at 12 %, meaning that 1 in 8 women will develop it if they live to age 80. Breast cancer mainly affects women, usually after age 40, and especially those with a family history of cancer of the breast. For example, those who have a close family member who has ever had cancer, such as aunt, sister or mother. Other causes of breast cancer are:

  • Smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Women with a long uninterrupted exposure to their hormones are at higher risk, such as those who started to have monthly periods early, and had a late menopause. A prolonged uninterrupted use of female hormones contraceptive pills , and those who have had hormone replacement therapy, such as, after menopause.
  • Overweight women tend to have more female hormones
  • Lack of exercise
  • Race: white people are at a higher risk than Africans
  • People who have had some sort of breast diagnostic test, even if initially, it was not cancer
Remember, pregnancy and breastfeeding reduce the risk of breast cancer. This is especially so if one gets pregnant before age 30.


As in many other cancers, people with early breast cancer often have no symptoms. However, as the disease advances, one may experience the following:
  • A lump in the breast
  • Skin changes over the breast. It may have a 'marking' and look like an orange peel
  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Reduced movement of the breast
  • Malformation
  • Inverted nipples
Other symptoms depend on the spread, and will depend on where the cancer has spread to. If it has spread to the armpits, there will be a swelling in that area.

Breast Self Examination

Early in the disease, cancer of the breast may not be obvious. It is however useful for every woman to do a breast self exam each month, to check for any lumps or other changes through touch. In addition, women above 40 years should get screened by mammogram each year. Younger women at high risk, such as, those who have had breast cancer before or whose relatives had it, may have an ultrasound.

If breast cancer is suspected, a sample of the abnormal tissues is taken for analysis, to confirm the cancer. Other tests such as chest x-rays, and abdominal ultrasound maybe carried out to see how far it has spread.


It depends on size of the growth, how far it has spread and type of cancer, because some respond to hormone treatment. Treatment may include surgery to remove a lump, the tumor or even the whole breast depending on size; hormonal treatment for those with tumors that respond to hormones, this may involve the use of hormonal medicines or removal of ovaries. Others are chemotherapy and radiotherapy. In some cases more than one treatment option will be used. The doctor should recommend you on the best treatment option.

Since breast cancer may occur again, the doctor will check your response to treatment using various tests, such as blood tests, X-rays or ultrasounds.

How to Avoid Breast Cancer

Though not all cases of breast cancer maybe prevented, some of the risk factors can be avoided or minimized. Some of these precautions are:
  • Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
  • Do not delay pregnancy unnecessarily
  • Prolonged breastfeeding where possible
  • Avoid being overweight through exercise and healthy eating
  • Reduce female hormone exposure: luckily, there are contraceptive pills with low levels of hormones.
  • Routine screening by breast self-examination and mammograms

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