Breast self-exam (BSE), or regularly examining your breasts on your own, can be an important way to find a breast cancer early. Early detection improves treatment options and outcomes.
Not every cancer can be found this way, but knowing your breasts thru regular BSE will increase the likelihood that you will notice a change and will be able to bring this up with your medical professional for further evaluation.
Over the years, there has been some debate over just how valuable BSE and there is some evidence that they may even cause harm by prompting unnecessary biopsies. Because of the ongoing uncertainty raised by this and other studies, the American Cancer Society has chosen to advise women that BSE is an “optional” screening tool.
It is my opinion that knowing your body well is an invaluable wellness tool and that BSE is a useful and essential screening strategy, especially when used in combination with regular physical exams. I recommend that all women routinely perform breast self-exams as part of their overall breast cancer screening strategy.
Tips for performing BSE
The consistent feedback I receive when discussing breast exams with women is that they are not sure what to look for. The more you examine your breasts, the more you will learn about them and the easier it will be for you to detect a CHANGE. Any change, especially one that lasts beyond a full cycle (for menstruating women) or if symptoms worsen, deserves further discussion with your doctor.
Some tips for BSE:
- Try to get in the habit of doing a breast self-examination once a month to familiarize yourself with how your breasts normally look and feel. Examine yourself several days after your period ends, when your breasts are least likely to be swollen and tender. If you are no longer having periods, choose a day that’s easy to remember, such as the first or last day of the month.
- Don’t panic if you think you feel a lump. Most women have some lumps or lumpy areas in their breasts all the time. Benign lumps and bumps are MUCH more common than cancerous ones.
- What’s important is that you get to know the look and feel of YOUR breasts’. Ask yourself: Does something stand out as different from the rest? Has anything changed? Bring to the attention of your doctor any changes in your breasts.
- Remember that breast tissue extends into the armpit and all the way to the side body, so use one of the techniques depicted in the image below to cover as much surface area as possible.
- Start a breast map journal to track the results. This can be a small picture with notes about where you feel lumps or irregularities. Especially in the beginning, this may help you remember, from month to month, what is “normal” for your breasts. It is not unusual for lumps to appear at certain times of the month, but then disappear, as your body changes with the menstrual cycle (if you are still menstruating). Only changes that last beyond one full cycle, or seem to get bigger or more prominent in some way, need your doctor’s attention.
The most important part of a BSE is to KNOW WHAT IS NORMAL FOR YOU and to note CHANGES. Keep in mind that regular BSE are not a replacement for physical exams by your medical professional. They are a tool to get to know your body and a way to be proactive about your health and wellness.
I also promote thermography as part of a screening and prevention plan. For more information, visit my friends at Hindsight Thermography.