|Healthy Women, Healthy Mothers - An Information Guide - Second Edition (FCI, 1995, 241 p.)|
|Chapter Twenty - OTHER REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH NEEDS|
In addition to regular visits to a health facility, women can also monitor their own health. Health education that teaches women how to care for themselves and how to recognise danger signs is critical, especially in places where access to good medical care is limited.
BREAST SELF-EXAMINATION: It is perfectly normal for women to have lumps in their breasts. These can change in size and shape at different points in the menstrual cycle. Sometimes - fortunately, quite rarely - a lump in the breast that does not go away and does not change in size can be a sign of breast cancer. Most cases of breast cancer can be discovered by women themselves. For this reason it is important that women learn how to examine their own breasts, and how to tell when there is something wrong.
Breast self-examination should be done once a month, about one week after menstruation stops. Before menstruating, the examination is more difficult because the breasts are often more tender and slightly swollen. Women who have already gone through menopause, or women who are pregnant, may choose any time of the month that is easy for them to remember.
During the first part of the examination, women look at their own breasts in a mirror, if one is available. They should look first with their arms down and then with their arms raised, to check for any differences between the two sides (see Figure 20.1). It is normal to have breasts that are unequal in size. Signs of an abnormality would include: dimpling or puckering in one area, one nipple turning in a different direction, swelling, enlarged veins in a non-pregnant woman, or sores.
The second part of breast self-examination requires lying down and gently pressing all parts of the breast tissue against the chest. It is best if the arm next to the breast being examined is raised and placed under the head (see Figure 20.2). The area under the armpit should also be examined. Any lump that is new or feels different from a previous examination should be inspected at a hospital that can do the necessary tests and, if necessary, surgery. In most African countries, this treatment is available at teaching hospitals, usually in the capital city. It is important to begin treatment as soon as possible.
Figure 20.1: Breast Self-Exam while Standing or Kneeling
A woman should examine her breasts once each month. The first part of the exam should be done by standing in front of a mirror if available, and looking at the breasts.
Figure 20.2: Breast Self-Exam while Lying Down
The second part of the monthly breast exam should be done lying down. The woman should press each part of the breast to check for lumps.