Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women at 30.5 percent. Around 72,000 new cases are registered each year. This means that around every eighth woman in Germany will develop breast cancer in the course of her life. Breast cancer can be treated relatively well if it is detected early enough.
Why breast cancer screening is so important, even at a young age
Regular checks are necessary for this. At least once a year, a woman should have an early diagnosis examination, the so-called preventive examination, carried out by a gynecologist. The mammary glands and lymph nodes in the armpits as well as the breast and collarbone are scanned. It also checks the shape of the breast and nipples.
From the age of 50, this palpation examination is supplemented by a mammography every 24 months – a screening in which the breast tissue is examined for lumps using X-rays, as women of this age group are particularly affected.
The risk of developing this form of cancer increases steadily after the age of 40. From the age of 70, on the other hand, it decreases again. And although only one in ten women who develop breast cancer is younger than 45, that does not mean that medical and self-examinations should be taken lightly at a young age. In fact, women over the age of 30 are advised to feel their breasts thoroughly for lumps and other changes at least once a month. But even in your twenties you should deal with the topic, because cancer does not stop at any age and early detection is the greatest advantage that you have in the fight against cancer, should the worst occur.
Palpate the chest: what does a lump feel like?
Palpation of the breast, i.e. the self-examination, should be an integral part of the preventive care. We explain how to examine yourself and what else to look out for. If you are still unsure, you can get additional information from your gynecologist.
One thing should be said in advance: in most cases, palpable changes are a cyst or a benign tumor, also called fibroadenoma. Both changes can be clearly delineated from the surrounding tissue and – importantly – moved under the skin. A cyst that is filled with fluid can often be recognized by the fact that it causes pain when pressed.
However, if you feel a change that feels rather hard and uneven and that is blurred, it could be a malignant finding, i.e. breast cancer. If there is a bulge directly under the skin, skin changes can also be associated with it. Noticeable changes in the lymph nodes in the armpit can also be a sign of a spreading tumor.
Either way, your heart can stop for a moment if you feel a hardening. To want to ignore what is felt (according to the motto: “If I don’t see the knot, it doesn’t see me either”) is human. Nevertheless, you should pick up the phone quickly. Even if you are not at all sure whether it is anything at all that you have felt. Every finding should always be medically examined by a doctor as soon as possible.
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How to feel the chest?
Palpating your own breast should become a routine ritual for every woman. So the earlier you start, the better. Because only those who know their body inside and out can quickly recognize changes, such as a knot, and act. If you have no experience in self-provision: don’t worry, we’ll show you how to proceed.
First, you stand loosely in front of a mirror and examine your chest. Are there any changes in the shape or position of the breasts? Are there any visual abnormalities such as folds or dents? Does the nipple look like it always does or are there color changes or even leakage?
Then you begin to feel the breasts and the nipples individually with or without a mirror – the left breast with the right hand and the right breast with the left hand. To do this, you first place your right hand under your right breast, for example, and lift it slightly. So with closed, flat fingertips of the middle three fingers of the left hand, you feel the chest piece by piece.
It doesn’t matter whether you scan in a spiral, in paths from the outside in or in lines, it is only important that you proceed systematically. Change the pressure from gentle to firm as there are different types of tissue in the chest. Finally, place the nipples lightly between your thumb and forefinger and press to check whether any liquid escapes.
You then repeat this again while lying down. To do this, stretch out the arm of the side to be examined. This makes it easy to feel the lower area of the chest and armpits.
The right time: when to palpate the breast?
The breast tissue changes several times over the course of the monthly cycle. For example, at the end of the period, the breasts are smaller because the estrogen and progesterone levels are relatively low. During ovulation, they often feel bigger and plumper. The ideal time to feel your breasts for lumps is therefore one week after the start of your last menstruation. Because then the breasts are the softest, which is the easiest way to feel possible changes.
Palpate the chest: what is normal?
As mentioned earlier, hormonal fluctuations cause the tissue in the breast to change naturally over the course of the monthly cycle. The so-called mastopathy is a benign, frequently occurring change in the breast and brings symptoms such as swelling, cysts, lumps and pain from movement and touch. Mastopathy is caused by an excess of estrogen with a simultaneous progesterone deficiency.
This hormonal imbalance can cause painful but harmless inflammation. Many women suffer from these changes in their breasts, particularly one week before their menstruation. Mastopathy, however, is completely harmless and can be treated, for example, with herbal medicines such as monk’s pepper, which brings the hormone balance back into balance.
Other ways of prevention
Often in the prevention of breast cancer one reads about special diet plans that sometimes do without sugar, sometimes fatty foods, etc. However, the trend is that a balanced diet with wholesome foods (i.e. as little further processed as possible) and reduced consumption of animal products are the best way to strengthen yourself and your body. A recent study by Loma Linda University in California suggests that just one cup of milk a day increases the risk of developing breast cancer by as much as 50 percent. On the other hand, soy products are considered completely harmless, as they were previously associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
In addition to diet, one should also try not to be too guided by the fear of a possible illness. Scientists have also found that worrying about a bad result can be enough to boost estrogen production and trigger chest pain. Many women already get complaints when someone in their family or friends has breast cancer. A healthy, happy lifestyle, regular medical examinations, your own self-examination and a reassuring “everything is okay” is the best way to arm yourself against breast cancer.