Sunday, October 9, 2011

Stop, Look and Feel: Doing Your Breast Self-Exam Right

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Do you know that "breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide," notwithstanding the fact that it is also one of the major causes of death among women globally? In the Philippines, Health Secretary Enrique Ona cited  the 12,262 new breast cancer cases with 4,371 deaths in 2010. Moreover, he revealed the health department's latest findings, which state that three out of 100 women in the country are likely to develop breast cancer in their lifetime. (A woman's risk of developing the cancer increases with age.) Sadly, breast cancer survival rates in the Philippines is one of the world's lowest at below 40 percent compared to developed countries which have achieved 80 to 90 percent survival rates.

The thing is, breast cancer is a curable disease . . . when detected, treated and managed early. Beginning in your 20s, you should already be taking conscious efforts to protect yourself. The Breast Self-Exam (BSE) is a widely recommended method of ensuring early detection among women. It is easy to perform, aside from being free and having no known side effects.

So this is how you go about your BSE:

Count seven to 10 days after your first day of menstruation when your breasts are no longer tender. This is the best time to perform your BSE. (For women who no longer menstruate, determine a fixed day for your monthly BSE, e.g. every 18th day.)


If this is your first time to do BSE, then take this as an opportunity to get to know your breasts. Stand in front of a mirror and take note of the shape and size of your breasts, the color and shape of your nipples, and so on. Get to know your breasts through these four simple steps: 1) with your arms at your sides; 2) with your arms overhead; 3) with your hands pressed firmly on hips; and 4) while bending forward. Soon, you would have to compare this first thorough look at your breasts with your next inspections. You have to take note of any changes, including the retraction/inversion/pulling in of nipples, any bloody or colorless nipple discharge, persistent lumps, and dimpling of the skin.


You may perform this BSE method while lying down and/or in the shower. Women with fuller bosoms are advised to go for the first option.

While Lying Down

To examine your right breast, simply follow these steps:

  1. Place a pillow under your right shoulder.
  2. Put your right hand under your head.
  3. Check the entire breast area with the finger pads of your left hand.
  4. Use small circles and follow an up-and-down pattern.
  5. Use light, medium, and firm pressure over each area of the breast.
  6. Feel the breast with the surfaces of the second, third, and fourth fingers, moving systematically and using small, circular motions from the nipple to the outer margins.
  7. Gently squeeze the nipple for any discharge.
For your left breast, repeat these steps using your right hand.

While in the Shower

It is said that many women discover masses on their breasts while in the shower. These steps should be easy to administer.
  1. Raise your right arm.
  2. With soapy hands and fingers flat, check your right breast.
  3. Use the same small circles and up-and-down pattern described earlier.
Repeat on the left breast.

Should you notice any changes, abnormalities, lumps or anything unusual with your breasts, DO NOT PANIC. See a doctor immediately for the next exams to be administered.

* * *
In the meantime, I am sharing Philippine-based I Can Serve Foundation's Early Breast Cancer Detection Guidelines, as narrated by Ms. Lea Salonga. (Please visit for the Filipino/Tagalog and Visayan versions.)

1. Breast Cancer Foundation. Breast Self Examination.
2. Department of Health. Breast Cancer Medicines Access Program Grand Launching.
3. E-medicine Health. Breast Self-Exam.
4. Parenting Weekly. How to Perform a Breast Self-Exam (Photos).

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