I found an aggressive cancer growth in my chest, performing my own breast exam.
Every month, for many years, being in the shower or laying during the evening bath, I will follow the instructions below to make a good breast exam. I did this exam about once a month since I was in the mid-20s, when I learned how important it is while studying in medical school.
In June 2013, at the age of 55, I found a very small, but very hard, piece. It was not like many cysts and other lumps that used to send me to my doctor’s office. It was different. He was lying on a rib in the lower part of his left breast. It was the size of a small pea – and a very unfamiliar, new piece. I think it was easier to feel, because it was so close to my rib when my chest tissue was spreading sideways to my chest wall. I know it helped me find cancer when it was very small.
It was June, and I had to pay for my annual mammogram, which I urgently planned. A heavy, small piece was cancer – the worst type of breast cancer, called High-Grade Triple-Negative. Finding this little one probably saved my life.
What are the signs of breast cancer?
- A lump or firmness that you may feel in your chest or armpit, especially if it is new or changing.
Breast cancer can be severe or not. It may hurt or not. Any changes must be communicated to your physician.
- Nipple is changing.
If your nipples turn inward or suddenly begin to discharge, tell your doctor about it. All nipples look and differ from each other, but you need to be serious about change.
- Skin changes.
For example, changes such as redness, scale or itching, dimple, or rigor numbness may indicate a cancer in the tissue below that causes changes in the skin.
40% or more of women with breast cancer find their own tumors during self-examination!
Get good at it.
Some experts say that women should not do self-examination examinations, that their survival does not increase, and that the disturbing treatment to the doctor is harmful – this harm outweighs early detection. (one). Experts in one study say
The data of two major tests do not suggest a positive screening effect by breast self-analysis, while there is evidence of harm. (2)
I am a strong supporter of self-help and self-learning.
How do you do a good self-examination exam?
Part of your chest-exam includes close attention to your chest in the mirror.
Look at your breasts straight. I think it's useful to look at your side view. There are two positions for the hands that you visually examine with your breasts in the mirror:
- First, place your hands on your hips and flex your chest muscles.
- Second, raise your hands.
In each position, look closely at the ridges, pieces, wrinkles, contour changes, or any visual change, as your breast tissue lies in these two positions of the hands.
Does skin look normal?
Are the breasts relatively the same size as always, or are they resized or shaped?
Nipples look like they always?
Another part of your breast research involves palpation – the feeling of breast tissue that lies between the skin and the ribs – from the lower poles of your chest to the armpit and including the armpit.
You need to feel all this. Do it both standing and lying down. I like to do it in the shower and bath when my skin is slippery, so I feel under the skin and not the folds of the skin.
Use the fingertips on the opposite hand to inspect the entire chest with small circular motions. I start from the lower outer part of the breast, moving to the lower center and around in a spiral to the nipple area. Carefully cover every part of your chest. Then I do the top, side pole between the chest and the armpit. Palpat in the armpit, too, because there are many lymph nodes. Do the same while lying down, because the breast tissue will spread through the wall of your chest. So I found the cancer when it rested on the rib.
You also need to squeeze the nipple.
It will help you to feel the small pieces there and check the discharge. I always squeezed all breast tissue gently between my thumb and fingers for palpation to the sides. This is usually not recommended, but I try. I found that my fibrocystic breasts were difficult to examine, and the pieces became more familiar to me by doing this. Do not forget to make both breasts.
For more information click here for Mayo Clinic instructions on how to do a self-examination
Know that your breasts change throughout your life.
Hormones, menstrual cycles, pregnancy, breastfeeding, menopause, age and weight affect how your breasts look and feel during self-examination. Monthly breast exams put it in perspective and improve the detection of important changes suspicious for breast cancer. During your premenstrual years, experts recommend doing your exam at the end of the menstrual cycle, when hormonal changes have less effect on breast tissue, and breasts less soft. After menopause or for men, choose a consistent day of the month.
Get familiar with your unique chest with regular exams. Some people have lumpy fibrocystic breasts – like me. This complicates self-esteem, which means that you need more regular practice to understand what's new and changing. Breast also changes during pregnancy and lactation – obviously! You still need to do monthly exams for yourself, while breast cancer can happen even then.
Remember that breast cancer is common.
1 out of 8 live women will have breast cancer. 30% of all cancer cases diagnosed in women are breast cancer. Because of this, 14% of deaths from cancer. (3)
Early breast cancer can save your life, even if you have a really aggressive cancer like me.
This year I do not have five years without cancer. High-quality triple negative cancer is so aggressive that it makes it five years without any signs of relapse, which defeats me in the “cured” proclamation of my oncological team. I know that if I gave up on my monthly breast exam, my chances of treatment would be different. I actually finished the cancer in both breasts and found that he was suffering a BRCA 1 gene mutation. This monthly breast test probably saved me from ovarian cancer.
Perform a monthly breast exam and encourage those you know and love to do them too, even the men in your life.
- Mara Y. Roth, M.D., et. and etc., Self-detection remains the key method for detecting breast cancer in women in the United States, J Women's health (Larchmt). 2011 Aug; 20 (8): 1135-1139.
- Kösters JP1, Gøtzsche PC., Regular self-examination or clinical examination for early detection of breast cancer. Cochrane Syst Rev Database, 2003; (2): CD003373.
- Rebecca L. Siegel MPH et. and etc., Cancer Statistics, 2018, CA: The Journal of Cancer for Doctors, Volume 68, Issue 1, January 4, 2018, https://doi.org/10.3322/caac.21442
about the author
Dr. Bailey Skin Care