Early detection can increase the chance of surviving breast cancer after treatment. Knowing how to spot the signs and detect changes can play an important role in prevention.

Practicing monthly breast self-examination can help detect abnormalities or changes that may indicate cancer. Before menopause, carrying out a check at the same stage of the menstrual cycle each month can help people spot any unusual features.

In the past, doctors and health authorities recommended breast self-examinations for all women. Now, some authorities, including the American Cancer Society, no longer recommend these. Despite these recommendations, it is important for people to be familiar with how their breasts look and feel and for them to report any changes to their doctor.

There are no guidelines on when or how to perform this self-examination.

One reason for this is the risk of a "false positive" result, which could lead to unnecessary treatment or anxiety. In addition, physical self-examination will not detect every kind of breast cancer.

Nevertheless, a person who is familiar with the features of their breasts has a better chance of spotting any changes that do occur, and this can increase the likelihood of early detection and effective treatment.

The carousel below is a step-by-step guide, with pictures, on how to perform a self-examination of the breasts.

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Knowing how the breasts usually feel can help a person detect changes that may need attention.

Most breast cancers begin in the milk ducts, the tube-like structures that deliver milk to the nipples.

Cancer may also form in the lobules, the glands that produce milk. Individual lobules form larger structures called lobes, and ducts connect the lobes.

As this system of lobes and ducts surrounds the nipple from within, ductal or lobular cancers may affect the appearance and feel of the nipples and the areolae around them.

Apart from a lump, what are some other early signs of breast cancer? Find out here.

The National Breast Cancer Foundation suggest three steps for an effective breast self-examination:

  • visual examination
  • physical examination while standing
  • physical examination while lying down

The following pictures show the areas that a person should examine and give an idea of how to carry out the examination.

Combined with a routine mammogram, breast self-examination can help catch breast cancer in its early stages.

For most people with breast cancer, the earlier the diagnosis, the better the outlook.