Better Breast Self-Exam

Regular breast self-exam may be safer and more effective than mammograms.

Breast awareness is critical to the all-important early detection of possible breast disease.  Men get breast cancer also, and it’s not rare in men, although it is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women, after lung cancer. Although men should regularly check their breast tissue, this article is aimed more at increasing awareness of female breast tissue.

Check breasts regularly. This means several times a week.  Once a month is not enough.  You don`t need to lie down or have any props.  You just need your hands and your mental focus.  Please don`t think to yourself  “I’m checking my breast(s) to make sure I don’t have cancer.”  The optimal mind set is “Hi! How are you doing today gals! Nice to feel you!”

Incorporate breast self-exam into your bathing routine.  As you soap up your armpits, spend 5 extra seconds feeling in the armpits.  Feel for lumps or bumps, which could signify enlarged lymph nodes.  The lymph nodes that drain the breast tissue are located in the armpits, so enlarged armpit (axillary) nodes could signify breast infection or breast disease.

Next, using both hands simultaneously, carefully feel the entire breast tissue, down to the chest wall.  You might use a circular pattern, spiraling in towards the nipple to make sure you cover the whole terrain.  A stripe pattern is fine too.  Just as long as all of the breast tissue is felt.  What you are feeling for is ASYMMETRY.  Breasts are most definitely lumpy and bumpy – this is normal!  This is the nature of fibrocystic tissue, which most women have and which does not predispose to breast disease or cancer.  A lump or bump that is hard (not squishy) and is not felt in the mirror opposite area of the other breast, requires immediate medical attention.

If your breast tissue is already asymmetrical (due to surgery or disease) you cannot rely on feeling the symmetry of the breast tissue.  Feel instead for lumps or bumps that seem to be growing.

If you find a suspicious lump or bump consider follow-up with a mammogram, ultrasound or biopsy.  Regular mammograms are not necessarily the best approach to breast cancer prevention.  Consider the following:

Mammograms deliver ionizing radiation to sensitive breasts tissue.
Mammograms may create complacency in women, and reduce the likeliness of performing regular breast self-exam.
An aggressive breast cancer, especially in a younger, hormonally active, woman could kill her before the next annual mammogram.
Mammograms have not reduced breast cancer deaths according to some sources.
Mammograms produce many false positive results, leading to unnecessary medical intervention including biopsies, which leave scar tissue in the breast.