What does a Self Breast Exam involve and when should I do them?

A self breast exam is your chance to feel for any changes in breast tissue, lumps, lesions, or tender spots. If you do notice something abnormal it is always best to get your breast checked out by a doctor to make sure there is nothing serious. To do an appropriate breast exam you want to start at the base of your collarbone, work your way around/down the breast until you are below the breast. You have to also remember that there is breast tissue on your side and even a little into your back. Your armpit is another important area to check, as the lymph nodes that drain the breast are found within the armpits. Breast exams can be done sitting up or lying down, in the shower or after a shower. The most important thing is to do them every month.

Monthly breast exams are best done the week after your period, as our breast can change size, density and be tender before and/or during our periods. I make the recommendation of doing them on the Sunday after your period, since most of us have a little more time on Sundays. If you no longer have your period, my recommendation for doing your breast exam is to do it on the date of your birthday, i.e. you were born on May 15, do your monthly self exam on the 15th of every month.

To Mammography or Not to Mammography

This is a personal choice. These days some women have chosen to skip the mammography and move towards thermography. Is this thermography a better choice? Many thermography websites have the following disclaimers:

"Breast thermography offers women information that no other procedure can provide. However, breast thermography is not a replacement for or alternative to mammography or any other form of breast imaging. Breast thermography is meant to be used in addition to mammography and other tests or procedures. Breast thermography and mammography are complementary procedures, one test does not replace the other. All thermography reports are meant to identify thermal emissions that suggest potential risk markers only and do not in any way suggest diagnosis and/or treatment. Studies show that the earliest detection is realized when multiple tests are used together. This multimodal approach includes breast self-examinations, physical breast exams by a doctor, mammography, ultrasound, MRI, thermography, and other tests that may be ordered by your doctor."

The recommendations for mammography seem to vary, some places say they should be done starting age 40 other places wait until age 50. As a Naturopathic doctor, I recommend that mammography be used for screening purpose. How early should you start that all depends on your history and risk factors for breast cancer.

Reference: Breast Thermography

Breast Cancer Risk Factors

There are many different factors that can increase your risk of breast cancer. Some of them you can change, others you cannot change and some we, as scientist and people, are still trying to figure out what role they might play in breast cancer risk. Looking through the risks outlined below, how can you lower your risk? By making small changes that will have a long lasting impact on your health.

Risk factors that cannot be changed

* Gender - breast cancer is 100 times more common in women than in men
* Age - your risk increases as you get older
* Genetics/family history - 5-10% of breast cancers are thought to be hereditary - BRCA1 and BRCA2 are just two of the genes
* Personal history of breast cancer - cancer in one breast has a 3- to 4-fold increased risk of developing a new breast cancer in either breast
* Race and ethnicity - Caucasian women have a slightly higher risk, while African-American women are more likely to die of this cancer
* Dense breast tissue - more glandular tissue and less fatty tissue increases risk
* Menstrual history - early menstruation and late menopause have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer
* DES exposure - used from 1940-1960s to help lower chance of miscarriage, both mother and baby have an increase risk of breast cancer
* Previous chest radiation - especially if the radiation was done during adolescence when the breast were developing.

Risk factors that can be changed

* Having children and having the first before maternal age of 30 lowers your risk
* Recent oral contraceptive use - increase risk for breast cancer, 10 years after stopping oral contraceptives seems to neutralize risk
* Hormone therapy after menopause - increase risk of breast cancer
* Breast feeding - slightly lower breast cancer risk especially if it continues for 1½ to 2 yrs.
* Alcohol - 2 to 5 drinks daily increases risk by 1 ½ times that of a non-drinker
* Being overweight or obese - increase risk, especially after menopause
* Physical activity - 1.25 to 2.5 hours of physical active a week can reduce a woman's risk of breast cancer by 18%

Others things that might alter our risk

* Diet and Vitamin intake - A diet low in fat, low in red meat and processed meat, and high in fruits and vegetables may have other health benefits even if they do not directly affect breast cancer risk
* Antiperspirants - many of the lymph nodes that drain the breasts are in the armpits, so what role do antiperspirants with their many chemicals play into breast tumors?
* Bras - with the invention of underwire bras we now have perkier breasts, but what is the underwire and the bra in general doing to our risk of breast cancer?
* Breast implants - the implant itself might not increase our risk, but how do they hinder doctors in looking for breast cancer on scans along with the production of scar tissue that many woman's bodies will produce around the implant
* Chemicals in our environment - we live in a toxic world, how are the pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls and cosmetics influencing our health?
* Tobacco smoke - scientific studies have shown that the chemicals from the tobacco products do get into the breast tissue in animals, so to what extent is it affecting the smoker and the secondhand smokers breast tissue is still unknown
* Night workers - working at night alters the body's natural production of melatonin, which might be why there is an increase risk in breast cancer for night workers

Reference: Breast Cancer