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Don’t Be That Girl: One-Third of Women Are Afraid to Check for Breast Cancer

breast cancer, breast cancer screening, breast cancer awareness

According to a survey commissioned by the Avon Foundation for Women, one-third of women are too scared to conduct a breast self-exam for fear of what they may find. Sarah Rawlings of Breakthrough Breast Cancer (UK) urges women to get past their fears, because this is something that is just too important to ignore.

The Avon Breast Cancer Crusade has been working since 1992 to help prevent, treat and ultimately eradicate breast cancer. They have raised more than $740 million and are the leading corporate supporter of the cause globally. One message of the organization to women everywhere is one of empowerment – you can take action to reduce your risks of getting this disease.

Rates of breast cancer vary among different groups of people. Per the Susan G. Komen Foundation, it is estimated that there is 1.6 million new cases per year worldwide. It is one of the most common cancers in women around the globe.

Although only 1 in 2000 women under the age of 29 will develop breast cancer (risk increases with age), it is recommended for women to begin early in life (around age 13) performing breast self-exams. But fewer than half of women actually do check their breasts regularly. It is important to make these exams a part of your routine, as catching a change in the breast early gives a woman the best chance for successful treatment should it indeed be cancer.

Breast Cancer.org offers an easy five-step process to do monthly to check for breast changes. The best time to perform the exam is usually one week after your menstrual period begins, when breast tissue is least likely to be swollen or tender. If your cycle is irregular or if you are post-menopausal, mark a date on your calendar that is easy to remember – such as the first day of each month.

Step 1: Begin by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips. Look for breasts that are their usual size, shape and color and that they are evenly shaped without visible distortion or swelling. Assess for dimpling, puckering or bulging of the skin, nipples that have changed position or is pushed inward instead of sticking out (inverted nipple), and redness, soreness or rash.

Step 2: Now, raise your arms and look for the same changes.

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Step 3: While you're at the mirror, look for any signs of fluid coming out of one or both nipples (this could be a watery, milky, or yellow fluid or blood).

Step 4: Next, feel your breasts while lying down, using your right hand to feel your left breast and then your left hand to feel your right breast. Use a firm, smooth touch with the first few finger pads of your hand, keeping the fingers flat and together. Use a circular motion, about the size of a quarter.

Cover the entire breast from top to bottom, side to side — from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen, and from your armpit to your cleavage.

Follow a pattern to be sure that you cover the whole breast. You can begin at the nipple, moving in larger and larger circles until you reach the outer edge of the breast. You can also move your fingers up and down vertically, in rows, as if you were mowing a lawn. This up-and-down approach seems to work best for most women. Be sure to feel all the tissue from the front to the back of your breasts: for the skin and tissue just beneath, use light pressure; use medium pressure for tissue in the middle of your breasts; use firm pressure for the deep tissue in the back. When you've reached the deep tissue, you should be able to feel down to your ribcage.

Step 5: Finally, feel your breasts while you are standing or sitting. Many women find that the easiest way to feel their breasts is when their skin is wet and slippery, so they like to do this step in the shower. Cover your entire breast, using the same hand movements described in Step 4.

In summary, Women should look for the following breast changes and report any to their physician as soon as possible:
• Lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
• Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
• Change in the size or shape of the breast
• Dimpling or puckering of the skin
• Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
• Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
• Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
• New pain in one spot that doesn’t go away

“Breast Cancer Awareness Month is the perfect time for all of us to strengthen our commitment to end this devastating disease and help those who are facing a diagnosis or recurrence,” said Avon Foundation for Women President Carol Kurzig. “

Susan G. Komen for the Cure
Breakthrough Breast Cancer
Avon Foundation for Women