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. (1) 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. (2)
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. (3)
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. (4) 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. (5) They are highly effective, accounting for most of the reported incidences of breast cancer (more than mammography). (6) 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.