Get to know your breasts. Check them regularly and watch for any changes.
The fight against breast cancer includes breast observation, clinical examination and mammography. At the Breast Cancer Foundation, we encourage you to follow all three of these breast health practices.
1. Breast observation
It’s very important to get to know your breasts and observe them carefully, no matter what age you happen to be. However, you also need to know what to look for. The key is to observe your breasts regularly and know the warning signs. This will make it easier to spot any persistent or sudden changes… and to promptly see a healthcare professional.
Get to know your breasts:
- Know how they normally look and feel.
- Recognize normal changes due to the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, lactation or aging.
- Learn and recognize the warning signs that may mean breast cancer.
Observe your breasts:
- Look them over carefully.
- Feel them carefully with your hands.
- Remind your spouse or partner to always tell you if they see any change.
- Seek professional advice if you notice any persistent or sudden change.
Observation is up to you:
- There’s no right or wrong way to observe your breasts. There’s no one “best” method to follow. Use the method that works best for you.
- There’s also no “best” time to observe your breasts. The key is to observe them regularly. Set a regular time that’s easiest for you.
Take action... encourage women you know – family, friends, co-workers – to be on the alert. Here are the most important signs to watch for:
- Changes in size or shape of the breast
- Changes in only one breast
- Visible or palpable mass (lump) in the breast or underarm
- Swelling of the breast or the arm
- Orange peel skin
- Redness covering at least a third of the breast
- Dimpling, pitting or puckering
- Localized feeling of warmth
- Ulceration or wound
- New more visible vein
- Skin shrinkage
- Change in appearance
- Spontaneous discharge
- Persistent eczema or ulceration of the nipple
2. Clinical breast examination
Talk to your doctor about having a clinical breast examination. Many specialists say that the best health practice is to have a clinical breast examination once every one or two years. The examination can be performed by various healthcare professionals: your regular doctor, your gynecologist or a qualified nurse.
Speak to your healthcare professional about…
- Any persistent or sudden concern or change in your breasts (size or shape of breast, lump, discharge, etc.)
- Your risk factors for breast cancer (family history, smoking, etc.)
- Possible lifestyle changes you can make to improve your chances of avoiding breast cancer.
- Advantages and limitations of clinical examinations and (after age 50) mammograms.
If any of your family members – specifically anyone you are directly related to genetically – has had breast or ovarian cancer in the past, you should discuss this fact with your doctor.
What if I don’t have a family doctor?
Visit your CLSC or a walk-in medical clinic.
A mammogram is the most effective screening test for breast cancer. In fact it’s the only method that scientists consider effective in reducing the risk of death from breast cancer. From the age of 50 through to age 69, you’ll receive a letter from the Quebec Breast Cancer Screening Program (QBCSP) reminding you to have a mammogram every 2 years. This letter also serves as a medical referral.
What if I don’t have a family doctor?
The QBCSP will recommend a doctor to review your mammogram.
What if there’s no mammography clinic in my region?
There are mobile mammography units (financed in part by the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation) that travel all over Quebec. For more information, please visit the QBCSP website.
- Is breast observation a recognized screening method?
- There is now scientific evidence that breast observation is effective as a personal health practice. Regular observation helps you get to know your breasts and makes you better able to tell the difference between a suspicious change and the normal changes that occur due to the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, lactation or aging.
- Who should adopt these breast health practices?
- – All women: Observe your breasts regularly (especially if there is a family history of breast cancer or other risk factors) and have a clinical breast examination every year or two.
- – Age 50 or older: Take part in the QBCSP program and have a mammogram every 2 years. If you notice any change, see your doctor immediately.
- Should I be doing my breast observation on a strict schedule?
- There’s no single “right” technique or time. You should simply do your breast observation on a fairly regular basis. Inspect your breasts with your eyes, and feel them with your hands. Once you’ve gotten to know them, watch out for any change in their shape, skin condition or nipple area. You can also use a mirror to help observe the underside of your breasts.
- What’s the difference between breast observation and breast self-examination (BSE)?
- The older breast self-examination (BSE) method is no longer recommended. We now talk about observation. Instead of being a complicated and often stressful procedure, breast observation is very simple to do and encourages women to get to know their breasts, observe them regularly and pay attention to any persistent or sudden change in breast shape, skin condition or nipple area.
- Can a blood test detect breast cancer?
- No. Mammography is the only recognized screening method.
- Should I simply observe the breast?
- No. You must also pay attention to the nipples, surrounding skin and axillary area (armpits).
- Is having a mammogram uncomfortable?
- Yes, sometimes. The mammography procedure involves compressing the breasts, and this can be uncomfortable or even painful for some women. However, it does not take long, and it’s still the only recognized screening method. To learn more, please visit the Quebec Breast Cancer Screening Program (QBCSP) online.
- Can I have a mammogram if I have breast implants?
- Yes, unless the implant prostheses have ruptured. If they have ruptured, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan can be used for screening purposes. If you aren’t sure, you can see your doctor for a checkup or visit PQDCS - Région de la Capitale-Nationale (Only available in French)
- Is a mammogram 100% reliable?
- No. Although mammography is the only recognized screening method, it does have certain limits and shortcomings. To learn more, please visit the Quebec Breast Cancer Screening Program (QBCSP) online.
- Should I wear a thyroid collar when I have a mammogram?
- Contrary to a rather widespread belief, a thyroid collar isn’t necessary during mammography. The amount of radiation that reaches the thyroid gland is extremely small. Also, the images of the breast must be as clear and accurate as possible, and a thyroid collar makes this difficult, as it masks large parts of the breast area. This means a second test will have to be done, doubling the total radiation received. mammothyroide.ca
- What are the advantages of taking part in the Quebec Breast Cancer Screening Program?
- When you reach the age of 50, you will receive an invitation by mail, which entitles you to have a mammogram without a doctor’s referral. Mammography screening makes it possible to detect cancer much earlier. There is less risk of death from breast cancer among women age 50 to 69 who have a mammogram every 2 years. To learn more, please visit the Quebec Breast Cancer Screening Program (QBCSP) online.
- Can a woman have a mammogram or ultrasound test while she’s still nursing a baby?
- Yes. No contra-indications are known to exist.
- Is having a mammogram every 2 years all it takes to screen for breast cancer?
- No. Cancer can appear between mammography procedures. That’s why it’s so important to observe your breasts between examinations and have a clinical examination once a year.
- Is there a time during the menstrual cycle when it’s best to have a mammogram?
- Yes. It’s advisable to have your mammography appointment within 7 to 10 days after the start of menstruation or when the breasts are less sensitive.
- Can breast cancer be predicted?
- Because we still don’t know what really causes breast cancer, it isn’t possible to predict it, except where genetic risk factors are present. However, adopting a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk of many illnesses and forms of cancer, and give you the best chance for a long and healthy life.
- If I get a pain in my breast, should I panic?
- A sudden pain will cause worry and fear in most women. But a minor pain isn’t necessarily a reason to panic. Bear in mind that pain in the breasts doesn’t generally mean breast cancer. A woman may have episodes of pain in her breasts during her lifetime. Unless these pains are related to her hormonal cycle or are simply muscular pains, she should see her doctor as soon as possible.
- What can my doctor or gynecologist do to help?
- Besides performing a clinical breast examination, your doctor can ask you about your family history and possible risk factors, as well as your personal medical history and hormonal cycle. He or she will then put these factors in context and advise you on how to handle or monitor your situation.