It's Breast Cancer Awareness Month - but our breast self-awareness should be year round, am I right?
Since originally writing version 1 of this article in October 2018, I’ve begun a monthly breast self-exam schedule and am more passionate than ever about bringing awareness to this topic.
Last October, our employee, Melissa, finally went to her doctor after having felt a lump for awhile. It turned out to be Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, Grade III. Long story short, she’s had a right breast mastectomy and lymph node removal and is currently cancer free. She was pregnant the entire time and her baby is 4 weeks old. It was a scary time for her family and us.
We have always promoted breast cancer prevention with paraben free lipstick (of course) and supported breast cancer survivors by offering soy free makeup. But, when Melissa was diagnosed at 29 years old – it was obvious how important continuing awareness is. Please share this article with the women you love!
Melissa encourages all women – if you feel ANYTHING questionable – do not hesitate to speak to your doctor or healthcare provider, no matter how scared you might be.
Let's Talk: Breast Self-Exams and Breast Self-Awareness
HOW TO DO A BREAST SELF-EXAM
Tips from my amazing friend and women’s healthcare provider, Andie Wyrick, MSN, CNM
1. Breast Self-Awareness – know your boobs !
Touch them often, make them a normal part of your daily routine, look at them in the mirror when dressing/undressing – become besties with your boobies.
Here’s why: if you don’t know what normal feels and looks like, it’s hard to know what isn’t normal for you. Some of us have cystic breasts, some have dense tissue, some squishy, some waterbed-like (*raises hand*). Get to know your boobs as well as you know your hands, eyelids, or lips.
2. Do the dangle test
Lean over in front of a mirror and look at your boobs.
- Any pulling or puckering? (remember, doing this often gets you familiar)
- Does your skin look like an orange peel, a bit dimply?
- Is there any change in their shape or size from last month?
- Any fluid leaks of any kind?
Yes to any of these or anything that doesn’t look like your normal – call your healthcare provider.
3. Use your fingertips, play the piano all over your breasts, areolas, and into your armpits.
Fingertips are more sensitive than using a “heavy handed” palm to smash around. Breast tissue extends all the way into the armpit – so get all up in it.
By the way, this is just as easy to do standing at the coffee pot in your kitchen as it is in the shower – so don’t let your location stop you when you remember.
Play the piano over all the tissue, going up and down, in circles, and extending outward from the areolas.
4. Get your partner involved
They certainly won’t mind being asked to look at your boobs more. But beyond that, they notice things that sometimes we miss, can’t see, or haven’t been paying attention to for years. Ask them to speak up and be supportive of a trip to your provider, just to check it out.
What Should I Feel In A Breast Self-Exam?
- Soft tissue – This would be what the majority of your breast normally feels like
- Small lumps that move when you push them – These are most likely cysts and are normal for many women (myself, included). If you aren’t sure, make an appointment and feel your boobs with your provider to show them what you’re feeling and to get confirmation.
- Your areolas
- Your armpits
- Up to your collarbone
What Does A Lump In My Breast Feel Like?
Think of lumps in two different ways – mobile and immobile. And before I keep typing, let me say – not all lumps are cancerous so please don’t panic if you feel one or many.
Lumps in your breast can vary greatly. They can be soft, painless and very mobile…or they can be hard, painful and immobile.
Any lump that is immobile (i.e. you cannot manipulate it with your fingers) should be checked out by your provider as soon as possible. The majority of breast cancer lumps are immobile, meaning it’s attached to the chest wall, not floating in the breast tissue (like a cyst does).
According to breastcancer.org – most cancerous lumps are also painless, hard and unevenly shaped.
So, having awesome breast self-awareness is the key here! If you know what the cystic lumps in your breast feel like – you will be quick to find anything that is abnormal. Early detection of what’s abnormal for you is most important.
See your healthcare provider if you have questions or anything seems weird!
Should You Check Your Breasts Lying Down?
Sure! It’s best to check your breasts in lots of positions. Lying down is great because your boobs spread and flatten out which gives you great access to feel really close to the chest wall.
If you do this when you wake up or you’re about to go to sleep – you’re already bra-less, you’re relaxed and in a comfortable position. All of which are great for doing a breast self-exam.
Make sure you switch it up though, and don’t always check them lying down. Step #2 above – “The Dangle Test” is also very important – a visual breast self-exam keeps you acquainted.
So, check them lying down when you wake up…then head to the bathroom mirror and lean over. Boom – you’re done! Say something nice to yourself and go about your day.
How Often Should I Perform a Breast Self-Exam?
Once a month.
If you have a period, the best time of the month to do a breast self-exam is 3-5 days after your period ends. Your breasts are going to be in their most “normal” state during this time.
If you are in menopause, it’s best to do it on the same day of each month. This eliminates any chance of variables.
It can be easy to forget this important self-care task so let’s discuss ideas for remembering each month.
Ideas For Remembering To Do Your Breast Self-Exam
- What other monthly task do you ALWAYS remember?
Even if it seems unrelated or weird, add your self-exam to that process (i.e. changing air filters, heartworm meds for pets, mortgage payment). Shift this task to 5 days after your period ends and combine the two. If it’s a task you never forget, adding your breast self-exam to the process ensures you won’t forget it either.
- Start undressing while looking in the mirror.
Breast self-awareness (without clothes on) will help you notice if something doesn’t look right. While you’re at it, say a little something nice to yourself instead of critiquing. If you catch yourself critiquing, pivot your thought to the desire for continual breast health (or continual healing/recovery). When writing this I realized I never get undressed in front of a mirror, and I bet I’m not alone. I’m going to start a gratitude practice while undressing in front of the mirror.
- Involve your bestie!
Help each other remember with texts and fun emojis (cherries anyone??) – turn it into a game with boobie points (1 for each month you both do it) and when you’ve scored 12 points – treat yourselves to bestie brunch + bra shopping! Because a new bra always makes you feel like a million bucks – its a great well-earned reward.
- Get tech-y with it – yep there’s an app for this too!
Two Free Apps: CHECK YOURSELF and KNOW YOUR LEMONS both send out monthly reminder notifications and overall education mixed with some fun!
- Calendar It
This seems so obvious, but for years it wasn’t on my calendar. We all know roughly when our periods start and end, so 5 days after make a note in your calendar or on your phone.
Finally, When In Doubt Call Your Healthcare Provider
Don’t google it, don’t forget about it, don’t assume it’s normal for you. If you’re not sure – call your provider. No hesitation. Promise?
What would you tell your best friend if she called and said “I’m not sure if I felt something weird on my last breast exam or not, it’s hard to tell”?
You would say, “just call your provider, get it checked out for peace of mind and a baseline.” So, take that advice yourself.
Bras off – let’s get to checkin’!
Are you a rockstar at remembering to do this…if so, I want to know your secret!?