Early detection is the most effective way to fight breast cancer. Self awareness on breast cancer and breast self-exams may help, although the most effective tools to detect breast cancer are mammography and clinical breast exam by your health professional.

A startling fact is that one out of every 20 women in Malaysia has a risk of getting breast cancer in her lifetime.

All women aged 18 years and above should perform a breast self-exam. If a woman is still menstruating, the best time to do the BSE is seven to 10 days after the first day of their period, when breasts are least likely to be tender or swollen. If they are no longer menstruating, they will be required to pick a day for the BSE, such as the first day of each month.

Additionally, women who perform regular breast self-exams may find abnormalities earlier and thus recognise changes that may be a sign of early breast cancer. Getting into the habit of examining your breasts regularly can help you get used to your normal breast changes. When you become familiar with how they feel, it will be easier to recognize anything unusual.

To perform a breast self-exam, follow the steps described below:

Stand in front of a mirror and look at each breast separately. Note the size, shape, colour and direction of your breasts and nipple. Look out for the following signs/abnormalities:

* Rashes that won’t go away

* Dimpling

* Inverted nipple

* Changes in skin texture

* Difference in size or shape

* Unusual discharge from the nipple/blood

With hands relaxed at your sides, look at your breasts as you turn slowly from side to side. Raise your arms above your head, turn slowly from side to side.

With hands pressed on your hips, chest muscles contracted and bend forward.

Squeeze the nipple gently and see if there is any blood or discharge from the nipple.

Feel for changes lying down. Place a towel under your left shoulder. Place your left hand under your head. Use your right hand to examine your left breast. Repeat the exam using your left hand to examine your right breast.

When feeling your breasts use the flat part of your three middle fingers. Do not use your fingertips.

Examine from the collar bone at the top to the bra-line at the bottom and from the midway between your breasts to an imaginary line down from the middle of your armpit.

A BSE can also be done with a friend

Method of examination:

Vertical method – start in the underarm area and move your fingers downward little by little until you reach the area below the breast. Then move your fingers slightly toward the middle and slowly move back up. Go up and down until the entire area is covered.

Circular method – begin at the outer edge of your breast, moving your fingers slowly around the entire breast. Continue working toward the nipple.

Manual inspection (reclining) – with fingertips close together, gently probe each breast in one of these three patterns.

Pressure: At each spot you touch, use varying pressure.

* Feel lightly for anything near the surface of the skin.

* Press firmly to feel for any lump deep in the breast.

Check your armpit. Bring your arm down by your side and feel your armpit firmly for any lumps.

It’s really that simple to perform a breast self-familiarisation and breast self-exam yourself in the comfort of your home. Also, it’s important to note that not all lumps are cancerous. If you detect any lumps, please seek a second opinion from your doctor immediately.

Women aged 40 and above are also encouraged to have an annual mammogram. Also, all women should go for an annual physical check-up by a doctor.