Checking your breasts: it’s everyone’s business

October is breast cancer awareness month. Both women and men (yes men!) can get breast cancer and so everybody needs to know what to look out for. Survival rates are good if caught early. So are you breast aware? 🤔

An estimated 1 in 8 women and 1 in 500 men can expect to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Yes, women obviously are more at risk than men but it does annoy me how heavily driven towards women breast cancer awareness marketing campaigns are. You might be confused by my outburst but in the four months since I’ve had my cancer diagnosis I’ve spoken to a lot of diagnosed women and their partners and I would say 60% found a lump through routine NHS breast screening and 40% were discovered by their partners when getting a bit fruity 😉. Granted, feeling boobs is very different to checking them properly but you take my point. Marketing campaigns are just missing the point. They’ve done amazing things in promoting women’s breast awareness but I really do think there is a gap, and it’s time to start educating everyone. They’re being excluded and I find it incredibly insensitive to those 1 in 500.

So I’ll say it again: IT’S EVERYONE’S BUSINESS!

Rant over.

Men have breasts too

Many people don’t know that men can get breast cancer because they aren’t aware that men have breasts. They do 😳. Men have a small amount of breast tissue behind their nipples where breast cancer can develop. To ask maybe an obvious question – what else would they be called and what would you call them?

Until puberty, breast tissue in boys and girls is the same. Both have a small amount of breast tissue behind the nipple and areola (the darker area of skin around the nipple). This is made up of a few tiny tubes (ducts) surrounded by fatty tissue, connective tissue, blood vessels and lymphatic vessels.

At puberty, both girls and boys begin to produce the hormone oestrogen. In girls, this leads to breast tissue developing. In some boys oestrogen also causes breast swelling but this is usually temporary and their breast tissue doesn’t develop. At puberty, boys begin to make more of the hormone testosterone which acts against the effects of oestrogen.

Do you check out?

Let’s be honest and answer the following questions:

  • How well do you know your breasts? Their shape. Their size. How they feel. What they look like.
  • If you’re lucky enough to have one – how many of you have your breasts felt more regularly by your partner then by you?
  • How many of you know how to properly check your breasts for lumps?
  • How frequently do you check yourself?
  • How many of you are aware of the symptoms of breast cancer?
  • More importantly how long would you wait to go and get any symptoms checked out by your GP? 1 week? 1 month? 1 year?

The NHS Breast Screening Programme has a five-point plan for being breast aware:

  1. Know what’s normal for you
  2. Look at your breasts and feel them
  3. Know what changes to look for
  4. Report any changes without delay
  5. Attend routine screening if you’re 50 or over (women only)

Before I get accused of scaremongering breast changes can happen for many reasons and most of them aren’t serious. Breast lumps are common but 9 out of 10 times breast lumps are not cancerous. However, if you find changes in your breast that aren’t normal for you it’s best to see your GP as soon as possible. It’s not worth not doing.

Here’s how to check for lumps (everyone)

  1. Feel your breasts while lying down, using your right hand to feel your left breast and then your left hand to feel your right breast.
  2. Use a firm touch with the first few finger pads of your hand keeping the fingers flat and together.
  3. Use a small circular motion.
  4. Cover the entire breast from top to bottom, side to side — from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen, and from your armpit to your cleavage.
  5. Finally, repeat all the above whilst standing up

Here’s what changes to look out for in women:

Here’s what changes to look out for in men (sorry no pictures ☹️)

In most men, the first symptom they usually notice is a painless lump under the nipple or areola.

Other symptoms may include:

  • a nipple that is turned in (inverted)
  • swelling of the breast tissue
  • a rash around the nipple
  • discharge or bleeding from the nipple
  • a swelling or lump in the armpit
  • an ulcer on the skin of the breast.

As for my change?

I had an achey/mildly painful armpit for about 1 month before I tested positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation and 2 months before I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Keep checking people and please spread the word to all. 👍 😉 ❤️

Liz Spice, 05 October 2017

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