Self examination of the breasts is important in detecting cancer. More than 90 percent of breast tumors are found this way. Physical examination by a doctor and other diagnostic tests can establish whether the tumor is cancerous or not. With early detection and treatment, you have a better chance of beating the disease.

"A breast tumor itself is not lethal. The disease kills by metastasizing - that is, by spreading through the lymph system of the bloodstream to other parts of the body. Thus, if breast cancer is caught early, while the tumor is small and before malignant cells have spread to neighboring lymph nodes, there is about a 90 percent chance of a cure," according to Dr. David E. Larson, editor-in-chief of the “Mayo Clinic Family Health Book.”

Unfortunately, in half of cases, the breast cancer has already spread, making treatment impossible. A study made by the University of the Philippines College of Medicine - Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) show that 75 percent of cases are in the advanced stage before the first diagnosis is made.

How often should women examine their breasts? The Philippine Cancer Society Inc. recommends monthly breast self-examination and an annual breast exam by a physician for women 30 years old and above. This will help them detect suspicious lumps easily when they are at a curable stage. How should this be done? Here are some tips taken from the “Mayo Clinic Family Health Book”:

Examine your breasts once a month. If you have not yet reached menopause, the best time is a few days after your period ends because your breasts are less likely to be tender or swollen. If you are no longer menstruating, pick a day of the month and do the examination regularly on that day.

Stand in front of a mirror. With your arms at your sides, look at the skin on your breasts for any sign of puckering, for dimples, or for changes in the size or shape of the breasts. If your nipples are not normally inverted, look to see whether they are now pushed in. Rest your hands on your hips, and then place them behind your head; in each position, check for the same signs.

Next, step into the shower and, once your breasts are wet and soapy, place your left hand behind your head and examine your left breast with your right hand. Think of your breast as the face of a clock, and place your right hand at 12 o'clock, at the top of the breast. Hold your hand flat, fingertips pressed together, and make a tiny circling motion, feeling for lumps.

Move the hand to 1 o'clock, to 2 o'clock, and so on. Once you return to 12, slide the fingertips closer to the nipple and repeat the motions you just went through, going around the clock in a circle within the first circle; then make an even smaller circle.

Continue until you have checked the tissue under the nipple; look for discharge from the nipple at that time. Finish by examining the area adjacent to your breast, below your armpit, because it also contains breast tissue. Repeat the whole procedure using your left hand on your right breast.

In addition, examine your breasts while you are lying on your back. Again look for nipple discharge. To examine your right breast, put a pillow under your right shoulder and place your right hand under your head. To examine the left breast, place the pillow under the left shoulder and your left hand under your head. (Next: Guidelines for mammography.)

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Author's Bio: 

Sharon Bell is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and published author. Many of her insightful articles can be found at the premier online news magazine