Here are the signs of breast cancer to watch for and how to do a breast self-examination – because early detection saves lives (and breasts)
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month so we have teamed up with Breast Cancer Foundation to share stories of women across Singapore who have battled, or are fighting, breast cancer. As women we should take charge of our health by knowing the signs of breast cancer (our infographic below will help), doing a monthly breast self-examination with our easy TLC guide and prioritising regular mammogram screenings.
It may not make the news every day but breast cancer is a health crisis that has been around for decades. Breast cancer is the number 1 killer cancer among women in Singapore. 1 in 13 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, 6 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every day and 1 death occurs from breast cancer daily.*
Protect yourself against Breast Cancer
Breast cancer does not discriminate and women as young as 20 years old and under have been diagnosed with the disease. That’s why it’s critical to do your monthly breast self-examination (step-by-step guide below), teach your teen daughters how to do a breast self-examination and know the signs of breast cancer to watch for.
Signs and symptoms of breast cancer
Breast cancer can show up differently in different women. Some women do not have any signs or symptoms of breast cancer at all which is why it’s always best to do regular mammograms and know your breasts so you can detect any slight changes in size/shape or feel.
Possible signs of breast cancer to watch for:
- a new (often painless) lump in your breast (or armpit as breast tissue extends here)
- a change in the size and shape of your breast
- a change to the nipple such as crusting/flaking, redness, discharge or the nipple pulled in
- a change in the skin of your breast such as redness, thickening, dimpling, or puckered skin
- a pain that does not go away
Most breast changes will not be due to breast cancer but you should always get them checked by your doctor to be safe. If you notice a change in the look or feel of your breasts, even if your screening mammogram was normal, see your GP without delay.
How to Do Monthly Breast Self-Examinations
It’s easy to check our breasts every month once you know the signs of breast cancer to look for. TLC traditionally is an acronym for “Tender, Loving, Care” but it also stands for “Touch, Look and Check”, the three steps when doing your monthly breast self-examination.
TLC for Breasts: Breast Self Examination Guide:
T – Touch: Lie on your back. Using the fingerpads of your three middle fingers, touch both breasts (and the armpits too) in circular movements to feel for lumps. Gently squeeze nipple for discharge or changes in skin.
L – Look: Stand in front of mirror and look for signs of breast cancer: redness, rash, retraction of nipple, changes to skin of breast: puckering, dimpling, flaking.
C – Check: Check with your doctor if you discover any changes in your breasts.
Get a regular mammogram: Early detection of breast cancer
The survival rate when breast cancer is detected in the early stages is very high. However many women get a mammogram just once in a lifetime instead of going for regular visits. With about 30% of breast cancers still being diagnosed in the third and fourth stages**, it’s up to us women to make the first move and go for mammograms regularly.
Mammography is widely accepted as the best method to detect breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat and before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms. Finding any abnormalities early ensures that women have all treatment options available to them.
Read all about Mammogram FAQs here.
So ladies, how are you going to remind yourself to do a monthly breast self-examination? Get your phone out and set yourself a reminder to do the TLC breast examination every month. Plus schedule in a mammogram. Tell your daughters, tell your friends.
*Source: 50 years of Cancer Registration, Singapore Cancer Registry 2019
** Source: Dr Shyamala Thilagaratnam, Group Director of Outreach, Health Promotion Board.