Breast problems are the most common health concerns among women and can affect women at any age. In women, the development of breasts usually begins around puberty and they may undergo various changes throughout the life cycle, especially during menstrual periods, pregnancy, lactation, and 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 include self-inspection, clinical examinations and the use of diagnostic devices. It has been proven that breast examinations are essential for early detection of breast cancer and are also useful for breast cancer prevention. Women over 40 years of age are predisposed to breast cancer. Awareness about breast checks is effective for the early detection and prevention of breast cancer.
The common pathological breast changes can be categorised into non-cancerous and cancerous changes.
- Non-cancerous changes include generalised breast lumpiness; enlarged lymph nodes; painless, movable and firm lumps; the presence of cysts; breast pain; abscesses or nipple discharge.
- Cancerous changes in the breast include invasive ductal carcinoma, lobular carcinoma, etc.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer
The symptoms of breast cancer 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.
Methods of Breast Checks
The most popular methods of breast checks involve breast self-examination (BSE), clinical breast-examination (CBE), and advanced imaging such as mammograms. Other diagnostic measures such as ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can also be used. These methods are commonly used for diagnostic purposes, for early detection of breast cancer.
Mammograms are one of the most effective diagnostic tools for identifying breast cancer. They detect the changes in the underlying soft tissue and assess the depth and cause of the pathological condition. The benefits of the mammogram include early detection of breast changes through high-quality images which provide a clear picture of the involved tissue and help detect all types of lumps. Annual mammogram screenings, in women over 40 years of age, significantly reduce the mortality from breast cancer.
Clinical Breast Examination
This method of breast check is performed by a physician to identify any unusual changes in the breast or the presence of any lumps. It involves a careful physical examination of the breast that helps in detecting any abnormality and to devise an appropriate treatment plan.
Breast Self- examination
In breast self-examination, a woman checks her own breasts to identify any abnormalities or unusual changes. It includes observation and physical examinations of the breast. Breast self-examination is easy, free, and can be performed easily at home. Your family history and your risk for developing breast cancer are a factor in deciding the age at which you need to initiate breast self-examination. Always inform your doctor about any change in the appearance of your breasts or any related abnormality. Breasts may swell and become tender at different stages of your menstrual cycle, so plan the breast self-examination at a convenient time every month to avoid discomfort.
Ultrasound and MRI
These diagnostic procedures are often used to confirm the examination finding as well as to evaluate any abnormalities detected during mammography. MRI is one of the most sensitive diagnostic techniques for detecting breast cancer.