Why Monthly Breast Self Exams Are a Thing of the Past (and What’s Replacing Them)

I found this article today on the Forbes Woman website and it makes a lot of sense. Most of us have been taught the importance of Monthly Breast Self-Exams but how many of us actually do this regularly and as thoroughly as we should? This article takes things a step further. The takeaway….become comfortable with your breasts and get to know what’s normal for you. 525600 Minutes Exam 300x218 Why Monthly Breast Self Exams Are a Thing of the Past (and Whats Replacing Them)

Most women grew up hearing that monthly breast self exams (BSE) were a crucial part of early detection. But more and more, experts are saying that monthly exams are passé. Instead, they recommend breast “self awareness.” Why is this, and what should you look for?

The main reason that the BSE is not recommended so universally as it once was is that some studies have suggested that women who do monthly BSE are not any better off than women who don’t. In other words, these women had no less risk of dying from breast cancer than women who didn’t do the monthly self exam. As a result, the recommendation from certain organizations has, over time, shifted away from BSE. Replacing it is the idea of breast self awareness, in which women are urged to get to know their breasts intimately, coming to understand what’s normal for them, and how it changes through the course of a month.

Dr. Elisa Port, Chief of Breast Surgery at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, says that one of the problems with the monthly BSE is that “many women say they don’t feel like they know what they’re doing.” Some women may be intimidated by the natural lumpiness of their breasts and not know where to start. But Port urges women to get beyond this and “get comfortable with your breasts” in a fundamental way. Just as you know each contour of the back of your hand, the idea is that you can know your breasts in the same old-hat kind of way. Even women with the densest, lumpiest, “cobblestone” breasts, says Port, can do this. She adds that the “likelihood of identifying something new is higher if you’re comfy with them.” You’ll know to recognize a “dominant mass: something that stands out against the background, even on cobblestone breasts.”

Director of Clinical Breast Programs and Services at NYU and co-author of Bosom Buddies, Dr. Deborah Axelrod underlines that “it’s normal to have lumpy, bumpy, granular and nodular breasts particularly when you are still premenopausal (still menstruating). If something persists through a cycle or two then bring it to your doctor’s attention.” She personally recommends skipping the monthly BSE: “I have changed my recommendations from routine monthly breast exams to feeling your breasts every 2 or 3 months, mainly to get to know what’s “normal” for you. For instance, I have had women over the years see me for physical findings that proved to be completely fine…. Doctors who are examining you for the first time may be alerted to what they consider to be an abnormal finding. However, if it has remained the same over the years (how would you know that? By getting to KNOW your breasts), then a biopsy may be avoided.”

If you’ve been slacking on the breast self awareness, here’s a good way to get started. Make your first step a clinical exam at your doctor’s office to make sure that everything you feel is supposed to be there. Rather than jumping in and getting worried at every lump and bump you find, says Dr. Port, your doctor can help you determine your “normal.”

Dr. Port says she even tells her patients to “draw the face of the clock, with 12 o’clock up toward the head, and 3 o’clock towards the middle of your body on your right breast. Then draw picture of what you think you feel.” You can take your drawing to your doctor, who can determine if lumps you feel are of concern.

Susan Brown, RN at Susan Komen for the Cure, says that her organization also recommends self awareness over monthly BSE, but there are several parts of breast awareness. “First: know your risk, and your family’s medical history; take that info to your health care providers. Second: get screened. If you’re at higher risk, your physician can guide you on screening practices. We recommend annual mammogram beginning at age 40. Third: Know what’s normal for you. If you find warning signs, go to your health care provider. Fourth: Make healthy lifestyle choices. Eat well, exercise, only consume modest amounts of alcohol, avoid hormones, and breast feed if you can.”

What are the red flags to look out for along the way? The obvious is any lumps or thickenings that weren’t there before, but there are other signs that women should be aware of:

* Swelling, warmth, or redness in the breast
* Changes in size and shape of the breasts
* Puckering or retraction of the skin or nipple/new nipple inverstion
* Nipple discharge, especially bloody
* Itchy, scaly rash on the nipple
* Skin dimpling (like an orange peel)
* A lump under the arm/lymph node
* Pain associated with one spot, which doesn’t go away
* Sore, swollen, inflamed breast (a sign of rare inflammatory breast cancer)

There are also some misconceptions about breast cancer risk. Dr. Port says that the most common myths are that the “kind of bra you wear or using deodorant” increase your risk. On the other hand, having no family history does not mean you’re risk-free – “90% of breast cancer patients have no family history,” she says. Hair dyes, breast implants, and terminating a pregnancy also do not seem to have an effect, adds Dr. Axelrod.

The bottom line is that no woman is too young or old to be diagnosed. “The truth is that all women should be aware that it’s possible,” says Brown. “Don’t ignore any change in your breasts. Sometimes we think, ‘if I don’t notice or don’t talk about these changes, they will go away.’ On the contrary, we want women to feel empowered to take action if they notice changes in their breasts.”

Komen for the Cure offers a breast care help line: 877.GO.KOMEN (877.465.6636), along with information on early detection, diagnosis, and treatment.

Lingerie.com

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!