Taking your breast health into your own hands means getting to know your breasts, checking them regularly and watching for any changes.
The fight against breast cancer includes breast observation, clinical breast examination and mammography. At the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation, we encourage you to follow all three of these breast health practices.
It’s very important to get to know your breasts and to observe them carefully, no matter what age you are. The key is to check 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. However, you also need to know what to look for…
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 sudden or persistent change.
Breast observation is up to you:
- There’s no right or wrong way to observe your breasts. 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. When you notice a recent or persistent change, see a professional quickly. Don’t forget that the presence of one of these signs doesn’t necessarily mean that you have breast cancer. 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 you have a history of breast or ovarian cancer in your family (blood relatives), talk about it with your doctor. No need to panic; only 5 to 10% of breast cancers originate with a genetic mutation.
What if I don’t have a family doctor?
Visit your CLSC or a walk-in medical clinic.
A mammogram is the only recognized technique for early detection that makes it possible to reduce the risk of death from breast cancer. If you take part in the Quebec Breast Cancer Screening Program (PQDCS), starting at age 50 and until age 69, you’ll receive a letter from the PQDCS reminding you to get a mammogram every two years. This letter also serves as a medical prescription.
What if I don’t have a family doctor?
The PQDCS 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 PQDCS website.
And you? Why do you do it?
In Quebec, nearly 80% of us don’t check our breasts regularly. But we all have good reasons to take our breast health into our own hands. Whether to reassure ourselves, to take control of our health or for the sake of the people we love, our reasons are our motivations. And you? What’s your motivation? Get inspired by what motivates other women and share your own motivations to inspire others.
- 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.
- 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.
- If I notice a change or a sign, does that mean cancer and chemotherapy?
- Most of the signs women notice are not cancer. If cancer was diagnosed, chemotherapy would be one of the ways to fight the disease, but it’s not the only one. We believe that by self-observing your breasts regularly, you have a better chance of reducing the burden of the disease.
- 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.
- Does the size or volume of my breasts influence my self-observation?
- No. Women’s breasts (including the nipples) are all very different: in size, volume, texture, density, colour, and so on. The important thing is to take the time to get to know your breasts, learn what’s normal for you, and be attentive to recent and persistent changes. The size of your breasts has no effect on your breast cancer risk. Besides, did you know that 1% of breast cancers occur in men?
- I have no family history of breast cancer. Is breast self-observation for me?
- Yes. It’s important to self-observe your breasts because most women who develop breast cancer don’t have a family history of it. On that subject, did you know that paternal history counts as much as maternal history?
- I exercise and eat healthy. Am I protected?
- Adopting healthy life habits does reduce your risk of breast cancer. However, nothing will protect you 100% from the risk of breast cancer.
- I’m a young woman. Do I still need to observe my breasts?
- Breast cancer doesn’t discriminate. It can happen at any age. Did you know that among women aged 20 to 49, 36% of cancers diagnosed are breast cancers? It’s by far the leading cause of cancer-related death in this age group.
- I’m over 70 years old and am no longer admissible to the PQDCS. Should I observe my breasts?
- You should continue to self-observe your breasts regardless of your age. While most breast cancers appear between the ages of 50 and 69, a significant number of cases affect women over 70. Don’t hesitate to speak with a healthcare professional about the breast health monitoring you can continue to perform, and remember that breast observation is part of that.
- I have implants. Can I observe my breasts?
- It’s absolutely possible to get to know your breasts and observe changes even if you have implants.
- I’m pregnant or breast-feeding. Can I observe my breasts?
- It’s important to continue self-observing your breasts at all times, because the disease can strike any time. If in doubt, talk to your doctor.
- If I get regular mammograms or clinical breast examinations, is it worth it to observe my breasts?
- Mammograms and clinical exams are two of the three practices that encourage breast health. The three practices are complementary, so it’s also important to self-observe your breasts, because breast cancer can develop between two clinical exams or two mammograms.
- I’ve had cancer in the past and have received treatment. Should I observe my breasts?
- It’s important to continue self-observing your breasts and stay alert for signs of cancer, because unfortunately, as long as you still have breast tissue, the risk of cancer still exists. As well, you remain at risk of having cancer in the other breast.
- 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.
- 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.
- Do you know the myths about breast cancer?
- Many scientific studies have demonstrated that the following elements have no relationship to breast cancer: using antiperspirant, wearing underwire bras, having breast implants, or getting hit in the chest.