Breast self-examination: understand why it alone is not enough

With the arrival of the month of October, it is normal to see a greater circulation of information about breast cancer . Many people already know and even participated in some way in the Pink October , which is dedicated to raising awareness of the prevention and diagnosis of breast cancer in early stages.

Although the campaign has a great impact on self-care, there is still a lot of misinformation regarding the disease, prevention and necessary care. And that includes breast self-examination. It is still an important measure of self-care, but it is not enough and does not replace other tests.


What is breast self-examination?

Breast self-examination is a very simple procedure that is still important to assist in the detection of breast cancer. Despite this, it is important to know (or reinforce) that it alone is not enough.

And this is already pointed out by health entities and bodies, such as the Ministry of Health, which indicate that the method has its limitations. Therefore, self-examination should always be accompanied by other methods and medical assessments.

Self-examination, which consists of palpation by the patient herself, ideally in front of the mirror, remains a valid guideline, but since it is only possible to feel already larger nodules or changes (over 1 cm), early detection is not possible.

In addition, an aggravating factor is that many women, by not identifying any abnormalities in self-examination, end up dispensing other medical care, thinking that they are not necessary.

The result is that cases are discovered later, which reduces the chances of a cure or worsens the treatment process.

Therefore, it is valid to do the breast self-examination, as long as it is part of the care.

And the recommendations, in general, are well known. The ideal is to do 1 week after menstruation, choosing a specific day of the month. This is because it is common to have changes due to menstrual swelling, which can hinder palpation.

Is breast self-examination alone sufficient?

No. The self-examination must be accompanied by other medical evaluations. Although the October Pink campaign and other information channels still indicate self-examination, it has been less and less recommended.

Or, when there is guidance to palpate the breasts, it is usually accompanied by an indication to combine the other clinical exams. This is important, as women, when doing the self-examination, can only perceive some more advanced alteration, as in 2cm sizes, as indicated by the oncology specialist Gilberto Amorim.

In other words, self-examination is still recommended, as, according to the oncologist:

“It is still an important tool for the detection of cancer, especially in regions with difficult access to medical care, where mammography is still precarious. But an early diagnosis, which is ideal, is only possible while the injury is still palpable ”.

So is it still necessary to do the self-examination? Yea! Although it is not enough, it allows self-knowledge of the breast, so that it is possible to identify changes in the skin, in the nipple, in addition to some lump in the armpit, retraction, among others. It also allows the woman to explore her own body and create a care routine with herself.

Regarding physical exams, they should be done, in general, once a year or according to medical advice. And gynecologists and mastologists can do that. That is, it is always possible to take advantage of the visits to the regular gynecological consultation to keep the evaluation up to date.

What tests should be done to detect breast cancer and how often?

According to oncologist Gilberto Amorim, “the recommendation of the Brazilian Society of Clinical Oncology is that women over the age of 40 should undergo mammography annually. Eventually, additional complementary exams, such as ultrasound and MRI, depending on the medical indication, may be necessary ”.

This, then, is a general guideline, for those women with no more complicated family history, such as breast and ovarian cancer. The oncologist points out that, in these cases, especially in women diagnosed at an earlier age, the orientation may be to do these tests before the age of 40, around the age of 30 or 35, depending on the case.

But Gilberto Amorim points out that “ mammography is the main exam capable of making early detection of breast cancer”.

Thus, it is a fundamental tool to reduce complications resulting from breast cancer, so the sooner the diagnosis is made, the greater the chances of a cure.

What is the importance of early detection of breast cancer? Does it affect the chances of a cure?

It is not new that early detection is critical to the rate of cancer cure. That is why the focus of campaigns and information is increasingly on the importance of prevention and early diagnosis .

Gilberto Amorim points out that:

“In stage 0 or stage 1 breast cancer, the chances of cure are over 90%, reaching 95%. In stage 2, the rates are still high, being able to exceed 80% and up to 85%. In the more advanced stages, patients can get a cure, but the rates are lower. ”

That is, the sooner the detection is made, the better the response to treatment.

Can you prevent breast cancer?

There are several precautions that can – and should – be taken throughout life to reduce health risks, and some of them end up participating in the prevention of breast cancer.

Oncologist Gilberto Amorim indicates that:

“Prevention is basically done with healthy habits, with food, physical exercise, reducing alcohol intake, having children sooner and breastfeeding them, reducing or abolishing hormone replacement after menopause”.

These tips are well known, as they help in the functioning of the body in general, allowing for a more balanced life. and more well-being.

After all, it is also nothing new to bet on healthy eating habits, performing physical activities and maintaining control of daily stress are simple measures that can prevent various harms.

However, it is not always simple to put these tips into practice. Oncologist Gilberto points out that food, for example, has changed negatively in recent years.

“A lot of sodium, refined sugar, industrialized products. Good nutrition is not an absolute reduction in the possibility of breast cancer, but it is able to reduce the risks of breast cancer and other types ”.

In addition, there is a direct relationship with other cardiovascular diseases, maintenance of blood glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure, for example.

“Physical activities have shown to have a protective and preventive role against cancer, reducing cases and recurrences. Alcoholic beverages and smoking also have an impact, so that reducing or abolishing alcohol intake can protect against cancer and other diseases as well ”, points out the oncology specialist.

In other words, prevention through a balanced life and with simple measures is a complete way of taking care of the body and mind.

Whether in October Pink or any other time of the year, preventing and keeping the clinical exams up to date is the best way to take care of yourself.

The Healthy Minute helps you with tips, information and guidelines to have a more balanced life!