11 Sep 2018
A QUICK AND EASY GUIDE TO BREAST SELF-EXAMS
11 Sep 2018
By: Dr. Alaina Gair, ND
How well do you know your breasts? The CIBC Run for the Cure is approaching and October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, so breast health is on my mind! In 2017, 10,100 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in Ontario alone. These seasonal reminders of the prevalence of breast cancer in Canada can also serve as a great cue to check in with yourself.
When was the last time you checked your breasts?
Whatever your age, you should know what is normal for how your breasts look and feel, and how they change throughout your menstrual cycle. This self-awareness means that you can alert your doctor to changes that are uncommon for you. The only way to become this familiar with your breasts is through regular self-checks.
Be aware, there are some risks for breast self-exams. You may find a change that causes unnecessary anxiety and/or treatment. The Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care has recommended against routine clinical breast exams as well as against advising women to practice breast self-exams. This is in response to 2 trials that found no evidence that these exams reduced breast cancer mortality. In addition, the research did find evidence for increased harm through benign breast biopsy. Meaning women went through the stress and pain of a biopsy for a non-cancer breast change. You can read the task force report here.
I believe that with proper education and support from your healthcare providers, knowing your body and being able to identify unexpected changes is valuable to long term health and wellness. This knowledge makes you an expert on your body and allows you to take on an empowered, active role in your healthcare – seeking the support that you need!
Instructions for Breast Self-Exams
The best time to check your breasts is 1 week after your menstrual period starts.
In the Shower
Using the pads of your fingers, move around your entire breast in a circular pattern moving from the outside to the center, checking the entire breast and armpit area.
Check both breasts each month feeling for any lump, thickening, or hardened knot.
Notice any changes and get lumps evaluated by your family doctor.
In Front of a Mirror
Visually inspect your breasts with your arms at your sides. Next, raise your arms high overhead.
Look for any changes in the contour, any swelling, or dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples.
Next, rest your palms on your hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles. Left and right breasts will not exactly match—few women’s breasts do.
Look for any dimpling, puckering, or changes, particularly on one side.
When lying down, the breast tissue spreads out evenly along the chest wall. Place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head.
Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently in small circular motions covering the entire breast area and armpit. Repeat for the left breast using your right hand.
Use light, medium, and firm pressure.
Squeeze the nipple; check for discharge and lumps.
My focus as a Naturopathic Doctor is chronic disease prevention – specifically cancer. I’m always looking for ways to improve daily routines for my patients so that pain is manageable or, ideally, preventable. Understanding the harmful effects of your current lifestyle is the first step, but acting to affect change is just as important. If you need support getting started or working out a plan, please feel free to contact me. You can set up a free 15 minute meeting with me at my clinic or send me a DM on Instagram!
If you would like more information on how to improve your breast health, check out my last blog: Boost Your Breast Health.
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