How to Perform a Breast Self Examination (and why)

How to Perform a Breast Self Examination (And Why)

The statistics on breast cancer are troubling. Even with all the research and new treatments available, there are still 55 new breast cancer diagnoses daily. The most important detection for early breast cancer is regular breast self examination. This post will inform you of how to perform a breast self examination correctly, and other important facts to be aware of.

Early Detection of Breast Cancer Leads to Higher Survival Rates

If breast (and other cancers) are detected early, they have a much higher survival rate. Options for treatment are numerous. At present the five year survival rate for breast cancer is 91% in Australia, and 96% if the cancer is caught early. That is an excellent outcome, but there are still over 5000 deaths yearly. A free breast screening program is available in Australia, but performing breast self examination is still the best way to detect early cancer. It is important to note that males can get breast cancer too, albeit at a much lower percentage than women.

Breast Cancer Statistics in Australia.  Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer, affecting 1 in 7 women and 1 in 675 men.  Source:  National Breast Cancer Foundation
Australian Breast Cancer Statistics. Credit: National Breast Cancer Foundation

How to Perform a Breast Self Examination

If breast cancer is caught early there is a very high chance of survival. A monthly breast self examination is the best way to detect early breast cancer because every woman’s breasts are different. If you know how your breasts usually look and feel, you will be in the best position to identify early changes and seek medical attention. Some breast changes are very subtle so it is important to know what to look for. The most important thing is to check your breasts monthly. Some guides say to do it on the first of every month, and some say after your monthly period ends. Post menopausal women should do theirs on the first of the month.

I have seen a number of ways to perform breast self examination. I have always done mine in the shower with soapy, slippery skin. Some women prefer to do theirs lying down. What matters the most is that you check all parts of your breast including up to your collar bone and under the armpit. Here is an excellent video which shows very clearly the correct procedure:

Breast Self Examination. Credit Madras Institute of Orthopaedics and Traumatology, India

Signs and Symptoms to Watch For During Your

Breast Self Examination

The signs and symptoms to watch for are:

  • Changes in the size or shape of your breast
  • Dimpling or a ‘pulling’ of skin on your breast
  • Any new lumps in the breast or under your arm
  • Breast pain or swelling (pain is rare)
  • Discharge of fluid (except breast milk) from the nipple, including blood
  • Dry, flaky red skin around the nipple area

If any of these symptoms are found, make an appointment to see your General Practitioner as soon as possible. Some women have no symptoms and the cancer is found during a routine mammogram or physical examination by a doctor. Mammograms should be done two yearly between the ages of 50 to 74. Breast Screen Australia provides a free screening service for women aged 50 to 74. Free screening is also available for women aged 40 to 49 and over 74, if requested. It is recommended that women with a strong history of breast or ovarian cancer are screened from an earlier age.

If symptoms are found, further testing may be required including ultrasound, biopsy and other scans such as a CT Scan or MRI. Treatments depend on the size and type of tumour, whether it has spread, and your general health.

Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer:  changes in the size or shape of your breast, dimpling or pulling of skin on your breast, any new lumps in the breast or under your arm, breast pain or swelling, discharge of fluid (except breast milk) from the nipple, including blood and dry, flaky red skin around the nipple area.  Source: ICON Cancer Centre
Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer. Credit: ICON Cancer Centre

Preventing Breast Cancer

Some factors that increase your risk of breast cancer include:

  • increasing age,
  • family history,
  • inheritance of mutations in the genes BRCA1, BRCA2 and CHEK2
  • Exposure to female hormones (natural and administered)
  • a previous breast cancer diagnosis
  • a past history of certain non-cancerous breast conditions

While you can’t do much about your genetic history, there are lifestyle factors that can impact your chances of getting breast cancer. These include:

  • being overweight
  • not enough physical activity
  • drinking alcohol
  • exposure to radiation

Know Your Breast Cancer Risk

I have written about my own diagnosis of BRCA2 gene mutation, which lead to my bilateral prophylactic mastectomies. It is important to know your risk because the presence of a gene mutation or family history of breast and ovarian cancers, could dramatically increase your risk. My risk before surgery was 60-80% as opposed to the general female population of around 13%. The only effective way I could guarantee that I would not get breast cancer was to have my breast tissue removed. It was a “no brainer” for me – the type of cancer that people with BRCA2 get is often the worst type with a very low survival rate. I did not even want to take that risk.

It has been a life changing decision for me because I had complications – I haemorrhaged post operatively. I’m still recovering 5 months later and have not been able to return to work. It may seem strange to say that I still don’t regret that decision.

I found out this past weekend that my brother has Stage 4 Prostate Cancer, undoubtedly from BRCA2. My mother-in-law has terminal lung cancer and only has a few weeks to live. The high incidence of cancer in my family gives me a lot of anxiety around it. Mum passed away at my age from cancer, and dad died from pancreatic and prostate cancer (BRCA2). My son had a melanoma at 24, and two of my siblings also had melanomas. Some families seem to cop a large burden, and ours is one of them.

Don’t Ignore Symptoms

One of the messages I want to convey is never to ignore symptoms. I have written about this previously in Signs You Need to See a Doctor. Be an advocate for your own health because without it daily life is so much harder.

Please share this article – it may help someone you care for. If you enjoyed this you may like my previous post October is For Breast Cancer Awareness which lists my previous posts about my BRCA2 diagnosis and surgeries.

Note: This post is for general informational and education purposes only. Please refer to my disclaimer.

Shared on Denyse Whelan Blogs Life This Week Linkup

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is for Breast Cancer Awareness

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.  I will be featuring breast cancer awareness in my blogs, as well as hereditary cancer.  My focus on cancer awareness this month is due to a passion for health promotion.  I can speak from experience because I have been a Registered Nurse for 30 years as well as having diagnostic tests and multiple surgeries.  

If you have been following Midlifestylist.com you may be aware that I have BRCA2 gene mutation which increases my risk of breast and other cancers.  Both my parents died of cancer – mum was my age, 54.  My father had BRCA2 as well.  He had prostate cancer and pancreatic cancer, and passed away when he was 84.  His father also died of prostate cancer and his sister died of ovarian cancer.  My son and two siblings had melanoma.   Cancer has therefore impacted my life dramatically. 

This year I had prophylactic surgeries to remove my ovaries and breasts.  That is because my chance of getting cancer was so high.  Unfortunately I had complications from both operations and required 3 extra operations.   I’m still recovering and have not been able to return to work since May.

Raising awareness of breast cancer and BRCA2

I can use my blog as an avenue of passing on my knowledge and experience of the impact of cancer and hereditary cancer risk.  Raising awareness will hopefully spare other families from seeing one of their loved ones suffer from cancer.

My previous blog posts about BRCA2 and cancer are:

The first of every month is the day women should perform a breast self examination.  My next post in this series will show you the correct way to perform the breast self examination, and what symptoms to look for.  

Shared on Life This Week Linkup by Denyse Whelan

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Know Your Family and Personal Health History

Know Your Family and Personal Medical History

This post is for general informational and educational purposes only. Please refer to the Disclaimer. It is recommended that you seek advice from your medical practitioner if you require specific medical advice.

Knowing Your Medical History is Essential

It is important to keep a track of your health history, especially your family’s history of diseases and other health issues. Your family’s medical history can reveal a pattern of certain diseases which may indicate whether there is a familial risk for developing a medical condition. Common diseases that can crop up in families are:

  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease – heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes
  • Kidney disorders
  • Diabetes and other endocrine diseases
  • Asthma
  • Genetic disorders such as haemophilia and Down syndrome
  • Some types of mental illness
  • Osteoporosis
  • Huntingtons disease
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Albinism

Some diseases are caused by mutations in a gene, while others are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors such as diet, exposure to toxins, skin damage by exposure to UV light, and substance abuse. Further information is available from Health Direct at this link.

It is important to know your family's health history because it may show an inherited disease.  This post includes a printable medical history form to record your personal and family health.
It is important to know your family’s health history because it may show an inherited disease. This post includes a printable medical history form to record your personal and family health.

My Own Family Medical History

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by Sue Loncaric for her series Women Living Well Over 50. One of the subjects we discussed was the importance of knowing your family and personal medical history. I shared my own family history of cancer, and how it lead me to have genetic testing to diagnose me with BRCA2 gene mutation which puts me in a high risk for certain cancers.

My family also has a high risk of cardiovascular disease and I have a congenital heart defect which was inherited from my father. Knowing my risk meant that I could have increased surveillance and appropriate treatment at an earlier stage, before I developed cancer or cardiac issues.

Knowing your family history can guide your doctor to investigate and treat you for medical conditions in their early stages or even prevent them before they occur. For example, because I have BRCA2 I had my ovaries and breasts removed before I developed cancer. I also started on cholesterol reducing medications before I developed plaque which could have lead to blocked arteries (arteriosclerosis).

My family has a high risk for melanoma so I have taken my sons for yearly skin checks since they were young. My son developed a melanoma at 24, but it was diagnosed at stage 1 and he is now cured. This is due to the regular check-ups and knowing our family history. We both now have 6 monthly skin checks.

Knowing your family health history is important because it could highlight hereditary medical conditions or risk of disease. It can guide doctors to investigate symptoms further and even guide them towards choosing one form of treatment over another. Drawing up a family tree may help to pinpoint certain diseases in the family. Using my own family as an example, your family tree may look like this:

Example of a family tree showing important health history.  BRCA2 gene mutation has been passed down to two generations.  It has an increased risk of breast, ovarian, pancreatic and prostate cancer and may also cause an increased risk of melanoma and other cancersMy Family Tree showing Our Health History

Keeping track of your personal health history is also important. I write everything down and update my records to keep a track of medications, allergies, illnesses and operations, vaccinations and the contact details of the medical practitioners who treat me.

The file is updated regularly and I carry a copy in my handbag in the event of a medical emergency. I cannot count the number of times I have had to refer to it. Keeping track of allergies, immunisations, medications and what procedures you have had done, is easy with this Personal and Medical Family History form.

Personal and Family Medical History

I have developed a useful printable personal and family medical history form that you may use. Print a separate copy for each member of the family and keep it somewhere safe. There is a printable version at the end of the post:

PERSONAL AND FAMILY HEALTH HISTORY 

Personal Medical Information

Name 


Date of Birth 

Place Born


Address



Next of Kin

Name


Contact No. Or Address


Medicare No.


Medical Insurance Policy: 

Provider:                        Card/Policy No.


Concessions


Social Security/DVA No.


Allergies 

MedicationReactionSeverity

Vaccinations

VaccinationDateVaccinationDate

Medical Conditions 

Medical ConditionDate Diagnosed

Surgical Procedures 

DateProcedureDoctorHospital

Medications

MedicationDoseFrequencyPurpose

Major Illnesses

IllnessDateDoctor

General Practitioner 

Name


Address


Phone


Medical Specialist

Name


Address


Phone


Surgical Specialist 

Name


Address


Phone


Medical Specialist 

Name


Address


Phone


Surgical Specialist 

Name


Address


Phone



Additional Notes









Family Medical History

Father 

Medical conditions 


If deceased – Age & Cause


Mother

Medical conditions 


If deceased – Age & cause


Children

Medical conditions 


If deceased  – Age & Cause


Brothers/Sisters

Medical Conditions 


If deceased – Age & Cause 


Grandparents

Paternal Grandfather – Medical Conditions 


If deceased  – Age & Cause


Paternal Grandmother – Medical Conditions 


If deceased  – Age & Cause 


Maternal Grandfather  – Medical Conditions 


If deceased  – Age & Cause 


Maternal Grandmother  – Medical Conditions 


If deceased  – Age & Cause 


Aunts/Uncles

Significant Medical Conditions


If deceased  – Age & Cause

Write significant hereditary medical conditions on this family tree

Printable Family and Personal Medical History Form

Download and print as many copies as you like. You will need one for each member of the family.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also like to read:

Signs You Need to See a Doctor

Being a Patient in the Midst of a Pandemic

Beating BRCA2 – How it Has Affected my Life

Please share this article as it may help someone else.

2 thoughts on “Know Your Family and Personal Medical History”

  1. katey26 says: July 29, 2020 at 10:03 am Edit The form is a great idea Like Reply
    1. Christina Henry says: July 29, 2020 at 7:23 pm Edit Thankyou Katey. I’m glad you like it Liked by 1 person Reply
  2. Jo says: July 29, 2020 at 10:06 am Edit This is a fabulous resource Christine. Two of my grandparents were heavy smokers and died of lung cancer (paternal grandfather and maternal grandmother – at 94), my maternal grandfather passed from complications of a routine operation and my paternal grandmother died of old age (at 98). My mother (78) is as healthy and fit as a horse, but my father (82) has had prostate cancer, non TB lung disease and asthma. Number 6 in 8 kids he lost his eldest brother at 92, but all others are living. All of Mum’s siblings are still living. My husband, however, was adopted and we know nothing at all of his family history. You have definitely got me thinking. #MLSTL Liked by 1 person Reply
    1. Christina Henry says: July 29, 2020 at 7:28 pm Edit Hi Jo, somehow I think you will have a long life! It must be difficult for your husband at times, not knowing his family history. I had my DNA tested through Ancestry.com and found a new first cousin who was adopted. That’s one way your husband could find family if he ever wanted to know. Regards Christina Liked by 1 person Reply
      1. Jo says: July 31, 2020 at 7:56 am Edit Yes, we’ve done the DNA testing, but the closest matches we got were 3rd/4th cousins. We’ve also now got a birth certificate so the next step is to see if we can getthe records unlocked (Scotland). Liked by 1 person
      2. Christina Henry says: July 31, 2020 at 12:31 pm Edit Oh wow! Good luck with it. Liked by 1 person
  3. leannelc says: July 29, 2020 at 7:38 pm Edit Hi Christine – I take my family’s medical history for granted and keep forgetting about the diseases etc that took some of them early. My father died in his early 70’s but that was largely from poor lifestyle choices, however you’ve reminded me of the heart issues in my mother’s side of the family that I need to keep in mind as I get older. I’m grateful that overall we’re a pretty healthy bunch.
    #MLSTL Liked by you Reply
    1. midlifestylist says: July 30, 2020 at 2:45 pm Edit Hi Leanne, I unfortunately inherited some dodgy genes from my dad, so I envy you having a healthy family. Luckily all the creativity we inherited came from my parents so you take the good with the bad. Some people prefer to put their head in the sand with health issues but I think it’s better to keep family history in mind and get on to it quickly if anything worries you. Thank you for commenting, regards Christina Like Reply
  4. Debbie says: July 29, 2020 at 9:29 pm Edit Hi Christina, this is a wonderful resource and your reasons behind it are really informative. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas with us. We are looking at issues with my grandson and family backgrounds are proving required information. Very timely to read your post #mlstl Liked by you Reply
    1. midlifestylist says: July 30, 2020 at 2:47 pm Edit Hi Debbie, I’m so glad you found it useful. I really hope it helps with your grandson. Thank you so much for your feedback, regards Christina Liked by 1 person Reply
  5. Helen says: July 30, 2020 at 12:34 am Edit This is so important! I come from a family that does not talk about family illnesses and It too a long time to draw the information out! It also helped remove some of the shame I was feeling when I realized that some of my medical conditions were not my fault, but actually due to family history. Like Reply
    1. midlifestylist says: July 30, 2020 at 2:38 pm Edit Hi Helen, yes I agree. The time for sweeping things under a rug is long gone. I still have family who choose to put their head in the sand where it comes to their health and I definitely disagree with that approach. It’s better to avoid illnesses or treat them in the early stages. Thank you so much for commenting, regards Christina Like Reply
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Women of Courage Guest Post

Some time ago I was asked by Denyse Whelan to write a guest post for her Women of Courage series. I’ve been following her series every week and have been inspired by all the other guests so it was an honour to be included. Denyse is someone I admire because she has had her own battles with cancer. I look after people going through this type of cancer after they have surgery and it’s a huge deal – head and neck cancer is incredibly challenging but Denyse survived this and has gone on to write very inspirational blogs about this and many other subjects.

Since I wrote this guest post, I have had four surgeries – two planned and two unplanned. I had the surgeries with the intention of removing the organs that were targets for cancer – my ovaries and breasts. I have BRCA2 gene mutation which gives me a very high chance of breast, ovarian, and pancreatic cancer, and melanoma. Previous posts were written about it here, and about my surgeries here.

The link to my guest post on Denyse’s blog is here. Please read it and some of Denyse’s other blogs. I thoroughly enjoyed participating in this guest post for the Women of Courage Series.

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