Most women know that self-examination for breast lumps is an important routine to ensure that any early lumps are detected. But many women also wonder – how often should I self-examine for breast cancer? Thankfully, there is a great way you can keep up with this essential home-test without inconveniencing yourself.
What is a self-exam?
A self-exam is a way of self-monitoring your body for signs of illness and disease. Self-exams can be done on any part of the body, but for breast cancer, you’ll want to focus on the breast tissue, chest area, and armpits. A breast cancer home breast exam can be performed by any woman, at any time. But please note that if you have your period, or are about to get your period, it might not be the best time for a breast examination as breasts can change with hormone fluctuations. Any sign of a breast change can be followed up with a simple mammogram for further investigation and reassurance.
What stops women from doing self-exams?
Considering how common breast cancer is and how doctors advise women to self-examine, it’s surprising that some women still don’t do home breast exams. As of January 2020, breast cancer was the most common cancer for American women with 1 in 8 women developing it.
It could be that women simply forget to do regular checks or it could be that self-exams raise issues with how body confident women feel. One study “found a direct link between greater breast size dissatisfaction and poorer breast awareness, as seen through lower frequency of breast self-examination and lower confidence in detecting changes in the breasts.”
In other cases, women might experience anticipatory anxiety that they could find a lump and therefore avoid the home breast cancer examination altogether.
Why are regular home breast exams important?
It’s advisable to form a habit of self-exams for breast cancer. This will equip you in knowing what’s “normal” for your breasts and aid you in quickly identifying any changes that have occurred within your breasts.
Breasts are never entirely smooth. They are filled with ducts and tissue that can feel lumpy and bumpy. It’s important that you’re able to distinguish between a normal and abnormal lump or bump.
The risks of breast cancer increase with age. When women reach their 40s, mammograms are commonly offered as an extra screening precaution. You should also be more mindful of breast cancer home testing if you have a family history of breast cancer.
By carrying out regular home breast exams, you’re increasing the chances that you’ll become aware as early as possible of any changes in your breasts and that you will be able to contact a doctor more quickly if need be. The earlier you detect breast cancer, the more effective treatment is. If you do find a lump, please don’t panic and assume it’s cancer. Breast lumps are often benign. However, it is still imperative that you arrange to see a doctor immediately.
How often should I self-examine for breast cancer?
To remember to perform self-exams, you might find a diary or phone alarm handy. Once you perform a self-examination, it becomes easier. After you become used to self-examining once a month, it should become more routine.
The best time for home breast exams is a few days after your menstrual cycle. This ensures your breasts are relieved of any swollenness or tenderness that comes with a period. If you no longer have periods, you can simply choose a day of the month that is easy for you to remember.
You should self-examine for breast cancer at least once a month.
There are two ways of checking your breasts, both of which should be part of your home breast exam routine:
1. Standing in front of the mirror and checking/monitoring appearance.
2. Laying down with an arm behind your head and using your other hand to apply circular motion and pressure over your breast plate as well as into the armpit.
What can I do to reduce my risk of breast cancer?
There are many things you can do to reduce your risk of breast cancer. For optimum health, various aspects of your life should be considered. Namely – diet, activity levels, and whether you smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol.
Certain foods such as processed meats have been known to correlate with a higher risk of breast cancer. Obesity can also have an impact on your breast cancer risk. Therefore, a healthy diet with plenty of veggies is a great way to keep those risks down.
Finally, reducing your cigarette and alcohol intake reduces the likelihood of you developing breast cancer. It goes without saying that by making these kinds of changes in your life, you can reduce the risks of many types of cancers, as well as improve your overall health.
There is some evidence that the combined oral contraceptive pill can increase breast cancer risk in some women. If you are interested in trying a form of contraception that does not increase breast cancer risk, you can discuss this at your next consultation.
If you’re new to home breast exams you might find that your breasts feel a little lumpy. This can be quite normal. However, if you have found a lump that doesn’t feel “normal” then it’s advisable that you seek a professional opinion as soon as possible. Smooth, moveable lumps often indicate a cyst, but it is important you still get them checked. To discuss a breast lump, get advice on breast cancer, or discuss any other female issues, please request an appointment with us today by clicking here.