There are many, many different factors that add to breast health risk and protection, from hereditary factors, to reproductive, lifestyle, hormonal, environmental, dietary and even psychological. Some of these factors we have control over, like our diet- eating foods from the brassica family (cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli) are protective; while others, we do not, like our family history or how tall we our (under 5' 6" tall tends to be protective).
One preventative measure we do have control over is performing self-breast exams and knowing our bodies and breasts, so we can notice any changes.
The best time to perform a monthly breast exam is a few days after you menses begins, or if you are no longer menstruating, the same time every month. This is because fluctuating hormones can change our breast tissue for example, if you have fibrocystic breasts (more on that below).
To perform a monthly breast exam, start with visualization. What you are watching for is any dimpling, puckering, bulging irregularities or changes in size. Look for any changes in your nipples such as inversion or displacement to one side. Notice any skin texture or colour changes.
Visualization should be done in 5 different positions- each highlighting a different area of the breast.
- Pace hands on hips and apply pressure- examine contour.
- Slowly raise both arms over your head, stretching up high- examine breasts and underarm (armpit) area.
- With arms above head, clasp your hands together and bring them down behind your head. Bring elbows back and squeeze your hands together- look for changes in appearance to breasts or underarm.
- Bring your palms flat together in front of your forehead with your elbows out to the sides, press hands together- examine breasts.
- Bend forward from your hips until nipples point down, resting hands on knees. In the mirror, observe the contour of your breasts for any irregularity.
- Lie back with a pillow under your shoulder to stabilize and support the breast you are examining. Rest the hand of the examined side behind your head (ie. Right hand behind head when examining right breast).
- Using 2 or 3 fingers of one hand, use the pads of those fingers to palpate the opposite breast (ie. use left hand for right breast). Make small circles with your fingers as you press towards the ribcage, moving the skin with your fingers. Use three levels of pressure to detect any lumps at various depths. Start with gentle pressure, then moderate and finally deeply enough to feel the ribs beneath.
- Using an up and down pattern, move from armpit, down to the bottom of your breast just below the fold of skin under your breast, move slightly inward and come back up to your collarbone (even just above the collarbone), and then move slightly inward again and back down to the bottom of your breast. Continue this until you reach the middle of your chest.
- Be sure to include the arm pit as this is often an area where persistent, swollen lymph nodes can be found which are an indicator of breast cancer.
- As you compete the exam, squeeze each nipple to notice any discharge. Unusual or bloody discharge warrants follow up with your medical doctor.
|Image From Penn State Hershey Medical|
- shape (smooth or irregular edges)
- texture (hard or soft)
- lymph node swelling
- nipple discharge
A note about Fibrocystic Breasts.
Up to 20-40% of premenopausal women have fibrocystic breasts. This is when the breast tissue contains soft, tender, moveable cysts that are predominantly noticeable between ovulation and menses (1-2 weeks before menses). After menses begins, they often diminish and aren't noticeable until ovulation/premenstrually.
These cysts are cyclical in nature, vary in size and are often painful, free moving and multiple, occurring both breasts.
Though this a common occurrence for many women, it is suggestive of hormonal imbalance. As is breast swelling/tenderness (whether cystic or not). Fibrocystic breasts does increase breast cancer risk and detection is often more difficult due to the density of breast tissue that often occurs with fibrocystic breasts. Breast tenderness, swelling and fibrocystic breast disease can often be reduced if not resolved with hormonal and nutritional support, talk to your Naturopathic Doctor if this is something you are experiencing. Breast massage can also be helpful for breast health and swelling/tenderness, speak to one of other RMTs who offers breast massage for more information!
Disclaimer: The information contained in these topics is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational purposes only. This information shouldn’t take the place of seeing a Naturopathic Doctor or your primary care provider for individualized health recommendations.