How To Give Yourself A Breast Exam & What To Look For, According To Experts
Breast cancer is a disease in which the cells of the breast grow out of control. Oftentimes, there are symptoms of breast cancer that can be detected early, and there are a wide variety of treatments available depending on the stage of the illness and your personal comfort level around treatment. And since one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, the chances are good that you know someone who has been affected by it. This is why being armed with knowledge related to prevention and screening are so, so important — from knowing how to give yourself a breast exam, to what feels and looks normal and healthy on your body.
Now, even though considering the reality of these symptoms and the disease itself can be really scary, it's important to remember that there are people who can help you figure out what is going on, and the best ways to treat your body with the care it deserves.
Elite Daily had the chance to speak with a couple of experts on the matter, who both had plenty of advice to offer when it comes to prevention, detection, and how to know what to look for when it comes to self-screening.
1. First, You Need To Become Acquainted With Your Body
Dr. Janna Andrews, a New York-based radiologist and founder of Kicked It In Heels — a nonprofit with a goal to both eradicate health care disparities in breast cancer, and promote health in survivorship — says the first step involves getting to know your own body, and what "normal" and "healthy" looks like on you. She tells Elite Daily,
Familiarize yourself with your body. Put both hands on your hips, and look at your breasts in the mirror.
Do the same thing with you arms raised. Look for any changes in the contour or shape of your breast, any changes in the skin.
Dr. Andrews shares that it’s not uncommon for women to have one breast that is larger than the other, but any dimpling, or a nipple that pulls in instead of sticking out, or changes in position, are all potential reasons to contact your doctor.
2. Lay Down And Be Gentle With Yourself
While lying down or in the shower, Dr. Andrews advises, use your finger pads to feel around your breast in a circular motion.
Make sure to cover the entire breast, as well as your armpit, and be on the lookout for any unusual bumps or masses. Squeeze the nipple and check for discharge, too.
3. Be Consistent With Self-Exams
Dr. Andrews tells Elite Daily the real goal of doing breast exams is to become more familiar with this part of your body: "Once a month is always good; usually a week after your period is a good time."
She recommends that you try to perform your exam at a consistent time each month, to get into the habit of that routine, and to alert your health care provider if you ever start to notice any unwarranted changes in your breasts.
4. Remember That Symptoms Can Be Invisible
Many times, symptoms of breast cancer can be "invisible." Other signs can include lumps in the breast that you'll feel for during a screening, irregular bleeding or discharge from the nipples, or even changes in the shape or color of your breasts.
That being said, Dr. Josh Axe, a wellness physician, popular radio show host, and national speaker, is a little less keen to recommend self-screening or even mammograms, which he believes expose single breasts to way too much radiation. In an interview with Elite Daily, he recommends regular thermography screenings, which use digital infrared imaging — kind of like a thermal picture of your body that allows you to spot and analyze activity in pre-cancerous tissue and the areas surrounding it.
These screenings are less common, but there's a decent amount of growing research to back up their effectiveness.
5. Overall, Don't Panic When It Comes To Self-Screening
If you do sense a change or feel something, don't let it freak you out. Breasts do change in the way they feel and look, and it's not always a cause for concern.
Dr. Andrews tells Elite Daily,
Do not panic if you do notice changes in your breast. Eighty percent of the time, these changes are not [cancerous].
6. Always Keep A Medical Pro Involved
While it's, without a doubt, very important to be in touch with what your body looks and feels like, Dr. Andrews says self-screening when it comes to breast exams is actually a pretty controversial topic among medical professionals. She tells Elite Daily,
While many credit breast self-exams to early detection, many studies have shown that women who perform [them] can lead to false positives, and then [have] twice as many biopsies compared to women who didn’t.
That being said, every woman should have an idea of what’s 'normal.'
Dr. Axe expresses similar sentiments, advising his own patients to seek screening that, again, includes the least possible exposure to radiation.
7. Remember What You Can Do To Reduce Your Risk
Last, but definitely not least, while there's no surefire way to prevent breast cancer, remember that there are ways you might be able to reduce your risk. Dr. Andrews recommends regular exercise, everything in moderation (like alcohol), and "eat your vegetables," just like your parents always told you.
She tells Elite Daily that these lifestyle modifications can not only help to decrease your risk of developing breast cancer, but for women who have actually had the disease before, these changes can also help decrease the risk of recurrence.
When it comes to food, Dr. Axe tells Elite Daily that he recommends 60 percent of your plate be packed with nutritious, plant-based foods. He also suggests a diet that's generally low in grains and high in veggies, healthy fats, herbs, and antioxidant-rich foods, such as berries. Supplements like vitamin D, collagen, and green powders are important for your body as well, he explains.
So, as frightening as the reality of breast cancer can be, the more we can learn about the disease and how to prevent and detect it early on, the closer we'll get to finding a cure for it.