Why Making Friends with Your Girls May Save Your Life
16 Oct 2014

Why Making Friends with Your Girls May Save Your Life

Breast self-exam (BSE) is widely promoted as a practice that helps women find breast cancer early. The idea is that finding it early will save lives.

There’s just one problem: No study ever has found that BSE reduces breast cancer deaths. That’s why after years of supporting BSE, the American Cancer Society revised its breast cancer screening guidelines in 2003 and now calls BSE “optional”.

In one telling study, researchers trained one group of women to do regular BSEs. A second group wasn’t given any advice on how or whether to do them. At the end of 10 years, both groups had the same number of breast cancers, and those who didn’t do BSEs found theirs just as often as those who did.

Many women do find their cancers themselves. But very few find them while doing BSE. More typically, changes are found by doing everyday things like looking in the mirror or soaping up in the shower.

Here’s what IS important.

Become best friends with your “girls”.

Know what normal looks and feels like. There’s a crucial difference between getting acquainted with your breasts and BSE. BSE is like a seek-and-destroy mission. It often makes women tense…and with good reason. And it’s all about trying to find cancer.

In contrast, getting acquainted with your breasts gives you a good, integrated sense of your body, which will help you know when something doesn’t feel right. Because like so many things related to our health, the most important thing is to PAY ATTENTION.

Let’s get started!

Stand in front of the mirror…topless, of course. Notice the symmetry of your breasts. Look for any puckering. Raise your arms…repeat the above. Notice the texture…and generally give them a good looking-over.

Once you’re in touch with normal, here’s what to be on the lookout for… nipple discharge and changes in size, shape, and even skin texture or color. Inflammatory breast cancer, for instance, may cause skin discolorations or orange-peel-like dimpling of breast skin. Any changes should be checked out immediately by your physician.

And one more thing…if you don’t know whether you have dense breasts or not, ask at your next mammogram. High breast density is a risk factor for cancer.

You can read the full recommendations for mammograms, MRI and BSE here.

Dr. Anna Garrett

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