Self Breast Exam - Your How to Guide
Self-breast exams are recommended for woman of all ages to do at least once a month. Breasts typically have some normal lumps and bumps that are nothing to be concerned about. The sooner you become familiar with the normal state of your breast tissue, the earlier you will be able to identify any changes to the area. The goal of a self-breast examination is to notice any abnormal lumps and bumps that appear or change over time. It’s also a beautiful way to connect more deeply to yourself and your body.
The most common and well-known procedure for the early detection and diagnosis of breast cancer is a mammography exam. Mammograms involve compacting the breast for a series of X-rays to show the inside of the breast. By the age of 40, women are encouraged to schedule annual mammograms as part of their cancer screening process. We are made to believe that these procedures will save us from getting breast cancer, that they’re safe and effective, and that they’re an important part of our health care routine. However, mammograms can be a very harsh procedure for such a sensitive and intimate area. The breast is forcefully compacted and exposed to ionizing radiation, which impacts the tissues at the cellular level and may contribute to the development of breast cancer. Mammograms can expose your body to doses of radiation that are 1000x greater than that from a chest X-ray, which in itself poses a known cancer risk.
Although mammograms do have their time and place, adopting and keeping with a holistic approach will be a less abrasive approach in prevention. Detection and diagnosis are important, but even more so is the prevention of ailments in the first place. When an abnormality or lump is felt in the tissue, consider thermography as a screening option. Thermography uses infrared imaging to provide physiological data about a lesion. Often, these abnormalities are benign fibroids which can be resolved with changes to the diet, breast massage, application of oils, and herbal remedies. Opting for thermography when you detect small changes in your breast tissue reduces your risk of exposure to high doses of cancer-promoting radiation.
A self-breast exam is an easy practice that every woman can learn to do for herself. By connecting with our bodies on a regular basis, we become familiar with how our breasts feel normally and how they fluctuate throughout our menstrual cycle, and we can easily keep track of any changes or abnormalities that arise. Our breasts have become sexualized and objectified - we perk them up, strap them in, and have disconnected from their true purpose - to sustain life! Our breasts deserve extra love, care, and attention.
The menstrual cycle coincides with changes in hormones. These hormonal fluctuations may also cause changes in the breast tissue, including in size, shape, and feelings of minor lumps. Swelling of the tissues usually begins to decrease when menstruation begins. The best time to do a self-breast exam is after your period begins - around day 5-7 of your cycle is ideal (with day 1 being the day that your period begins). Testing at this time in your cycle will ensure the breast exam is more accurate to your true breast tissue.
How to preform a self-breast exam
Choose a comfortable position - lying in bed, or after meditation or stretching
Remove your shirt and bra
Place a pillow behind your head & lift one arm above your head
Using a firm but smooth touch, move the pads of your fingers in a circular motion, as well as up and down and side to side. When doing so, use three different pressure depths: surface, medium, and deep, allowing you to cover both shallow and deep areas of the breast
Cover the whole breast area from the armpit to the nipple, to the breastbone, as well as below and above the breast
Notice what you’re feeling - the breasts are made of fat, glands, and connective tissue, so you’ll feel some tissue and lymph nodes, which is normal
As you repeat this every week or so, you’ll begin to notice how your breasts feel normally and how they change throughout your cycle, and you’ll be able to detect any abnormalities
Note that lumps in the breast that change and move are often nothing to worry about - it is the lumps or bumps that are hard, grow in size, and don’t move that are what you want to get checked out
If you have some tenderness or pain in the breast or tissues that feel sensitive to the touch, this is often related to changes in estrogen, excess estrogen or fibroids
Fibrocystic breasts are characterized by lumpiness and usually discomfort in one or both breasts. The lumpiness is due to small breast masses or breast cysts. The condition is very common and benign and often cleared up when hormones are in balance.
Supporting healthy and balanced hormones, using herbal remedies, breast massage, and proper fitting bras can all help to reduce and heal fibrocystic breasts. Many women also find that reducing or eliminating caffeine & chocolate clears up the issue.
If you do notice something that you’re concerned about, don’t panic! Keep an eye on it for any changes (write it down and keep track, noting if it changes with your cycle, gets smaller, goes away, or grows), make an appointment with your gynecologist to get a second opinion. This could also be a good time to book a thermography session as the changes are often tracked over a few months.
Supporting Breast Health
Turn your self-breast exam into a personal massage
Doing a self-breast oil massage is a great way to make a self-exam more relaxing, enjoyable, and healing.
Use a small amount of a good-quality and skin-friendly oil such as almond, jojoba, apricot, sesame, or evening primrose
Add 1-2 drops of pure essential oil for added benefits and aroma such as frankincense, sandalwood, jasmine, thyme, chamomile, or clary sage
You can also find products that contain a mix of healing breast oils such as Living Libations Breast Massage Oil and St. Francis Breast Oil
Use the oils to massage the breast in the same way as you would with the self-breast exam, or just apply to the breast in a way that feels good as a soothing moisturizer
Dry brush to increase circulation and detoxification
Dry brushing is a great way to boost circulation, increase lymphatic flow, and promote detoxification throughout the whole body. Toxins tend to accumulate in our fat cells, and much of our breasts are composed of fatty adipose tissue, meaning that toxins will settle in this area if there is poor lymphatic flow.
Use a good-quality natural-bristle brush, which you can find at most natural health food stores or online
Dry brushing is great to do in the morning, before showering and before your breast oil massage - it’s better to avoid dry brushing in the evening, as it can have a stimulatory effect on some people
Start gently! This is going to be a new and uncomfortable sensation that takes some getting used to
Use long strokes and circular motions, always brushing toward the heart
Start at the feet and move to the legs, then the hands to the arms, the back to the shoulders and neck, and then the abdomen and breasts
Be careful and gentle with sensitive areas, avoiding the nipples and the face
Consuming a nutrient-rich, plant-based diet is essential for the health and vitality of our bodies and minds. Nurture your body with healing foods - think organic, leafy greens, colorful veggies, fruits, whole grains, complex carbs, good fats, high-quality protein sources, and plenty of filtered water. Keeping our bodies in balance will promote homeostasis and inhibit the development of illness and disease.
Ditch the bra! Wearing a bra for up to 12 hours a day increases our risk of breast cancer by 5x!. This is due to the blockage of circulation that is needed for lymphatic flow and to minimize toxins from accumulating in the fat cells in the breasts. Going totally bra-free may not be for everyone but minimizing the length of time you keep your bra on is a great place to start. Take it off as soon as you get home, dry brush or massage the area, and get some movement in. Choose bralettes and looser-fitting bra tops instead of the underwire to allow for more circulation and breathing room.
Lifestyle and mental + emotional well-being are other important factors in the prevention of disease and illness of any kind. Breast cancer and problems of the breast have been connected to emotional experiences relating to constantly putting others first, the suppression of and failure to express anger and emotions, unresolved emotional loss, and feelings of resentment. A great book that talks about this much more in depth are Awakening Intuition by Mona Lisa Schulz. Adopting self-care practices such as meditation, journaling, and yoga is a great way to let out inner suppressed emotions, connect with our bodies, and help to prevent sickness from accumulating within us.