Cancer has become one of the ten leading causes of death in India. It is estimated that there are nearly 20-25 lakh cancer cases at any given point of time. Over 7 lakhs new cases and 3 lakh deaths occur annually due to cancer. Nearly 15 lakh patients require facilities for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up at a given time. Breast cancer is the most common, followed by cervical cancer among women in India. It is estimated that 1 in 28 women in India will develop breast cancer at some point in their life. However the good news is that these two cancers are particularly amenable to early detection by screening. Unlike cervical cancer no single screening tool is available to diagnose early breast cancer. If detected and treated at early stage, breast preserving surgery is possible.

Do your Breast Exam Yourself

Factors responsible for changes in the breast are age, hormonal changes with monthly menstrual cycle, pregnancy, breast feeding, birth control pills etc.

Importance of Self Breast Examination

We have observed that there are many women who come for a check up only when the breast lump becomes large, involves the skin or starts bleeding. Women tend to hide the problem for a long period of time till it is too late for any cure.

Because most lumps are found by women themselves, you should learn how to examine your breasts and do so regularly by doing simple meticulous breast self-examination, these lumps can be picked at an early stage where a doctor can offer cure to such patients.

When breast cancer is found and treated early, a woman has more choices and good chance of complete recovery, so early detection is very important.

Who should do the breast examination?

All women aged 20 and above. It should continue throughout their life.

When to do The Breast Self Exam?

Do Breast Examination once in a month. If you are still having menstrual periods, the best time to do BSE is 2 or 3 days after your period ends. These are the days when your breasts are likely to be tender or swollen. It is common for your breasts to be swollen and tender right before or during your menstrual period.

If you no longer menstruate, pick a certain day-such as the first day of each month for this purpose. If you are taking hormones a day after withdrawal bleeding stops.

The Five Steps of a Breast Self-Exam:

Step 1-

Here’s what you should look for:

  • Breasts that are their usual size, shape and color.
  • Breasts that are evenly shaped without any visible distortion or swelling. If you see any of the following changes, bring them to your doctor’s attention.
  • Dimpling, puckering or bulging of the skin
  • A nipple that has changed position or an inverted nipple (pushed inward instead of sticking out)
  • Redness, soreness, rash or swelling.

Step 2-

Now raise your arms and look for the same changes, especially look for any dimpling of skin or in drawing nipple.

Step 3-

While you’re at the mirror, gently squeeze each nipple between your finger and thumb and check for nipple discharge (this could be a milky or yellow fluid or blood)

Step 4-

Next, feel your breast while lying down; using your right hand to feel your left breast and then your left had to feel your right breast. Use a firm, smooth touch with the first few fingers flat and together.

Cover the entire breast from top to bottom, side to side from your collar bone to the top of your abdomen, and from your armpit to your cleavage. Begin examining each area just beneath your skin with a very soft touch and then increase pressure so that you can feel the deeper tissue, down to your ribcage, using fingers only. Follow a pattern to be sure that you cover the whole breast. You can begin at the nipple, moving in larger and larger circles until you reach the outer edge of the breast. You can also move your fingers up and down vertically, in rows.

Step 5-

Finally, feel your breasts while you are standing or sitting. Many women find that the easiest way to feel their breasts is when their skin is wet and slippery, so they like to do this step while bathing. Cover your entire breast, using the same hand movements described in step 4.

If examination reveals suspicious findings, report to the doctor for a checkup and further investigations if required.


It is a soft radiography of the breast, which can pick up as small as few mm size breast cancer. Mammography is recommended every year after 40 years of age.

Most Common Risk Factors

Age- As age advances, the risk of breast cancer increases.

Family History- A family history of breast cancer, especially if a first degree relative (mother, sister, daughter, aunt) had/has breast cancer. The risk increases if they developed breast cancer before menopause, or if it affected both the breasts or if 3 or more first degree relatives had breast cancer.

Personal History
  • Starting to menstruate at an early age (before 11). Late menopause (after 50).
  • Women who have not conceived. Women who have their first child after 30 years of age. Women who have not breast fed their children.
  • Past history of cancer in the other breast or certain types of fibrocystic breast disease.
Dietary Factors
  • Foods rich in animal fat and diets high in overall fat content.
  • Weight gain, especially after menopause.
Key Points
  • Breast cancer is curable if detected early.
  • Breast cancer examination is an important aspect of breast awareness.
  • All lumps are not cancer
  • Check with doctor for appropriate diagnosis and treatment at the earliest.
  • Biopsy of the breast lump – with the help of a special needle, tissue of the breast lump is removed for biopsy