The most common breast cancer symptom is a detectable lump or thickening in the breast or underarm area. These lumps can mean the presence of a tumor, benign or malignant, and the most common way they are discovered is through a professionally screened mammogram test or clinical breast exam, according to the National Cancer Institute. However, there are other ways to detect a tumor of the breast, such as a breast self-exam, or BSE.

It should be noted that breast self-exams are not specifically recommended for breast cancer screening and should never be utilized in lieu of a professional screening or mammogram. The use of BSEs has not yet yielded any progress in the reduction of mortality rates in breast cancer. However, many women still use BSEs as a regular way of checking for any unusual changes in the breast, which may or may not end up being caused by breast cancer. It is estimated that up to 20 percent of breast cancers are discovered through physical examinations, as opposed to mammography or other tests.

For those women who wish to perform their own BSE, it is recommended that you get into the habit of checking your breasts once a month, preferably a few days after your menstrual period has ended. By performing the BSE on a monthly basis, you will be able to better understand how your breasts look and feel normally. If you should come across what feels like a lump, it’s probably not cancerous. It’s estimated that only one out of five women who have a lump tested actually have breast cancer.

Some of the abnormalities that women should be especially vigilant for are lumps in the breasts or underarm areas, dimpling or puckering of the breast’s skin, discharge coming from the nipple, or any swelling in the breast area. Because breast self-exams are done alone, proper technique is important. It's a good idea to consult your doctor to discuss the best technique for your self-exams, and you can also find detailed information on breast self-exams on the Mayo Clinic’s website.

It should be noted that breast changes can occur frequently, especially due to pregnancy, aging, menopause, the menstrual cycle, birth control pills or hormone activity. Lumpiness and unevenness are not completely abnormal occurrences in the breast. However, if anything out of the ordinary should be detected in the breast, especially if it lasts longer than one menstrual cycle, it is recommended that you speak to your doctor about the possibility of breast cancer.

There can be potential drawbacks to BSEs, including the anxiety experienced upon personally discovering lumps, or having tissue removed for a biopsy only to find it was benign, which could possibly leave the woman feeling the procedure was unnecessary.

Please request a copy of our free book, I Have Cancer… Should It Have Been Caught Earlier?, if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with breast cancer in Georgia and you feel it was detected late or misdiagnosed by your doctor.  You can also contact an experienced Atlanta medical malpractice and breast cancer lawyer at the Dover Law Firm at 770-518-1133 for more information or to schedule a free consultation.