Doing a self breast exam every now and then can go a long way in preventing cancer growth. Breast cancer is the most common type in women worldwide, with higher rates in developed countries.
There are many risk factors for breast cancer and the overall risk of developing the disease increases significantly after menopause. In fact, most breast cancer is found in women between fifty and sixty-nine years old.
While it’s true that women with close relatives who’ve had breast cancer are more likely to develop the disease, it’s not impossible to prevent.
Consider this, 80% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of breast cancer. What this means is that external factors such as eating healthy, staying active and other lifestyle choices play a bigger role in the development of the disease than your genes.
Breast Cancer Screening
Routine mammograms have been recommended for women over forty for decades. Women march dutifully into their doctors’ offices for their annual exams, thinking they are putting themselves in the best position to catch cancer early.
This is another example of conventional medical wisdom misleading us: mammograms detect cancerous tumors no sooner or more effectively than self-palpation.
Moreover, there is significant evidence that regular mammograms can actually cause breast cancer by virtue of the radiation and extreme pressure applied to the breasts.
Studies into the accuracy of breast cancer screening in the form of mammography have found serious flaws.
In addition, research has found that undergoing regular mammograms does not translate into reduced risk of mortality from the disease.
If you are at increased risk for breast cancer, consider asking your doctor for thermography instead; it is much safer and more accurate than mammography.
The Best Time To Do a Self Breast Exam
Monthly examinations of your breasts visually and through self-palpation (gentle pressure) are universally strongly encouraged, starting as early as adolescence after the breasts have stopped growing.
They are highly effective, accounting for most of the reported incidences of breast cancer (more than mammography).
Self examinations should be done the week after your menstrual period ends (when breasts are least swollen); post-menopausal women should perform their exams the same time each month.
How to do a Self Breast Exam
In all positions, use the pads of your fingers and begin at the outer part of the breast, working in concentric circles to the nipple. Breast tissue goes all the way up into the armpit, so palpate there, too.
Feel for anything unusual, including lumps, thick spots, or any changes to skin. Take your time and go over the entire surface and surrounding areas of the breast. Make sure you check both breasts.
1. In the shower or bath
Wet skin allows your fingers to glide over your skin without friction.
2. In front of a mirror – with each position, turn and look at your breasts from all possible angles. Breasts aren’t perfectly symmetrical, so really eyeball each one.
Search for changes in shape, size, swelling, dimpling, discoloration, and the appearance of your nipples with:
- arms relaxed at your sides
- arms raised over your head
- palms on your hips and chest muscles flexed.
3. Lying down:
- Lie on a bed or floor with a pillow under your right shoulder and your right hand behind your head. Examine your right breast with light pressure. Repeat using medium pressure and again with firm pressure.
- Gently squeeze the nipple to check for discharge.
- Repeat procedure for left breast.
What to Look For In a Breast Self-Exam
A regular monthly breast exam provides a point of reference to note any changes. Many women have naturally lumpy or dense breasts and these aren’t necessarily a cause for concern.
Any change to how your breasts look or feel from one month to the next that doesn’t go away is the red flag to watch for. If you find something out of the ordinary, consult your healthcare provider.
Here’s what to look out for:
- Change to breast size or shape
- Breast skin changes: indentations, dimpling, color, texture
- Lump or thickening that feels different from the surrounding tissue
- Nipple discharge, especially if there’s any blood
- Peeling, flaking, or itchy skin on or around the nipple
- Enlarged lymph node or swelling in the armpit.
Here’s a simple self breast exam video to help you get started:
The Best Way to Beat Breast Cancer
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Know the risk factors for breast cancer and avoid them—you can find a discussion by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control here. According to the World Cancer Research Fund International:
“The Continuous Update Project Panel judged that for premenopausal breast cancer there was strong evidence that consumption of alcoholic drinks, greater birthweight and adult attained height are causes of premenopausal breast cancer. The panel also judged that there is strong evidence that vigorous physical activity and greater body fatness protect against premenopausal breast cancer.”
In addition to family history and lifestyle factors, what you eat has a great deal to do with your health and how you feel. Find some anti-cancer foods here.
Read the labels of personal care products to avoid known cancer-causing chemicals.
You know your body better than anyone else.
By spending a few minutes to do a self breast exam, you can detect breast cancer in its early stages when it is easiest to treat and put a stop to it before it turns malignant.