October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
While many of us are aware of our own breasts, how many of us are truly familiar with them?
Clinical breast exams and self-breast exams are not recommended screening tools based on a lack of evidence that these types of screening methods reduce mortality from breast cancer and that they may even cause harm through unnecessary biopsies.
(Note that these recommendations apply only to women between the ages of 40-74 at an average risk of breast cancer. They do not apply to women at a higher risk due to personal or family history).
While self-breast exams are not recommended for most women, I encourage my patients to be familiar with their breast tissue through regular observation and mindful touch.
When women feel their own breast tissue regularly over time, they get to know what it feels like and can sense any changes. This is similar to noticing a mole on the back of your arm or a pimple on your face through touch. Approaching this with an attitude of curiosity, neutrality and appreciation is often more empowering than solely looking for something wrong.
Basic How To
This is best done monthly 2-3 days after your period ends (or cycle day 7), or if menopausal, at the same time each month.
Standing in front of a mirror, press your hands on your hips. Look for:
- symmetry (size, shape, appearance),
- skin changes (dimpling, puckering, redness) or
- changes to nipple (pushed inward, change in position, discharge other than breast milk).
*Note—it’s normal to have one breast larger than the other.
Repeat with your arms raised above your head.
Feel your breast tissue lying down or in the shower. Place one arm up and feel the breast tissue on the same side using the finger pads of your opposite hand using a firm, smooth touch, covering the entire breast and up into the armpit. Repeat on the other side. Note any lumps, thickened areas, ropey texture or areas of pain.
Most women have some lumps or lumpy areas in their breasts all of the time or cyclically at certain times during their cycle. These often turn out to be benign and can be due to various reasons, including hormonal imbalance, which can be addressed and treated.
It is important bring up any concerning findings or changes with your health care provider, especially with prominent changes or changes lasting more than one full menstrual cycle.
Breast Cancer Update (2018). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://canadiantaskforce.ca/guidelines/published-guidelines/breast-cancer-update/.
Hunt, V. (2016, January 22). Proactive Breast Healthcare in Naturopathic Medicine. Retrieved from https://ndnr.com/womens-health/proactive-breast-healthcare-in-naturopathic-medicine/.
Klarenbach, S., Sims-Jones, N., Lewin, G., Singh, H., Thériault, G., Tonelli, M., … Thombs, B. D. (2018, December 10). Recommendations on screening for breast cancer in women aged 40–74 years who are not at increased risk for breast cancer. Retrieved from http://www.cmaj.ca/content/190/49/E1441.