Breast Cancer – Steps to Finding Breast Lumps Early
If you are having any symptoms or have any questions, please call 811 to speak with a registered nurse 24 hours a day.
BREAST CANCER: STEPS TO FINDING BREAST LUMPS EARLY
The best way to find breast lumps is to do 3 things:
- Have regular checkups and mammograms.
- Have your healthcare provider check your breasts.
- The Canadian Cancer Society recommends that people be familiar with how their breasts look and feel and to contact their healthcare providers about any changes.
Doing all of these things gives you the best chance to find any lumps as early as you can.
What is a mammogram?
A mammogram is the most effective way to find breast cancer early, often before the lump is even large enough to feel. A mammogram is a special kind of X-ray of your breasts. The amount of radiation used in the X-ray is very small and not harmful.
Mammograms detect cancer because cancer is more dense (thicker) than the normal part of the breast. A radiologist will look at the X-rays for signs of cancer or other breast problems.
How is a mammogram performed?
Your breast will rest on a shelf and the X-ray machine will slowly press against your breast until you feel pressure. This pressure is needed to spread your breast out so that a better X-ray can be taken. The X-ray takes 1 or 2 minutes, and the entire process usually takes no more than about 20 minutes.
Do mammograms hurt?
Mammograms can be uncomfortable. But they don’t take very long. You may find that planning to have your mammogram shortly after your period makes it less uncomfortable. Your breasts may be less tender at this time.
How often should I get a mammogram?
In Nova Scotia, women between ages 40-49 are recommended to have annual screening mammography. Women in Nova Scotia, aged 50-69, are recommended to have screening mammography at two year intervals. Women 50-69 can also be recommended to return on an annual basis if they:
- have a strong family history of breast cancer (mother, sister, daughter, father, brother, son),
- are currently on HRT or
- the radiologist has recommended returning sooner.
Women over the age of 70 are recommended to continue to have screening mammography if they are in good health.
In Prince Edward Island, women between ages 40-49 are recommended to have annual screening mammography. Women in PEI aged 50-75, are recommended to have screening mammography at two year intervals
In Prince Edward Island, a screening mammogram is recommended for women aged 40-75 who:
- have never had breast cancer;
- do not have symptoms such as a breast lump, puckered skin, rash or nipple discharge;
- have not had a mammogram in the last 12 months;
- do not have breast implants; or
- have a parent or sibling with breast cancer.
- Your health care provider may request a diagnostic mammogram if you find a change in your breast such as a lump or nipple discharge. In this case, the mammography department will contact you to schedule an appointment.
If you have risk factors for breast cancer, such as a family history of breast cancer, your healthcare provider may want you to have mammograms more often or start having them sooner. It is best to talk to your healthcare provider for their recommendation in determining when you should begin.
How often should I have a clinical breast examination (exam done by your healthcare provider or other healthcare professional)?
Talk with your health care provider about your breast health and what is right for you.
How often should I check my breasts?
The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation encourages being breast aware. This means being familiar with how your breasts normally look and feel, knowing what changes to check for, and discussing any unusual breast changes with a healthcare provider. This includes the entire breast area up to the collarbone and under the armpits, as well as the nipples. There is no time schedule for being breast aware. Do it at a time and in a place that works for you.
Changes to look for in your breasts
- Any new lump (which may or may not be painful or tender)
- Unusual thickening of your breasts
- Sticky or bloody discharge from your nipples
- Any changes in the skin of your nipples or breasts, such as puckering or dimpling
- An unusual increase in the size of one breast
- One breast unusually lower than the other
How do I check for lumps?
Some ways you can check for lumps:
Examination in front of mirror
Start by standing in front of a mirror. Look at your breasts with your arms at your side, with your arms raised behind your head, and with your arms on your hips and your chest muscles flexed.
Examination lying down
Next, lie down with a pillow under your left shoulder. Put your left hand behind your head and feel your left breast with the pads of the 3 middle fingers on your right hand. Start at the outer edge and work around your breast in small circles, getting closer to your nipple with each circle. After you’ve finished checking your breast, squeeze your nipple gently and look for discharge (fluid coming out of the nipple).
Do the same thing to your right breast with a pillow under your right shoulder.
Pattern of examination
Be sure to include the area up to your collarbone and out to your armpit. You have lymph nodes in this area. Cancer can spread to lymph node tissue.
Breast lumps are common and not necessarily cancerous. Let your healthcare provider know if there are any changes in your breast exam or if you notice a lump. Finding breast cancer early makes treatment much easier and more effective.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation
Atlantic Region Contact Toll Free 1-800-639-0222
Breast Cancer Network