What You Should Know About Breast Screening
I’m a huge fan of personal responsibility. And there’s nothing more important than our health. Especially the health of our breasts.
Breast health is something that should be a part of every woman’s body awareness.
In the event that cancer does start, catching it in its early stages is crucial. It’ll be easier to treat and less likely to result in death.
Here’s what I invite you to do:
Know thy breasts.
Breasts are naturally lumpy, and since hormones can affect your breasts during your menstrual cycle, it’s best to check at the same time each month. Otherwise, a “normal” lump, could cause you to worry for no reason.
Knowing your body, and what’s “normal” for YOU, is key. Routine checks will confirm this.
Tip: Keep a breast journal. Decide on a certain day(s) of the month to check your breasts, and then make a note of any changes you find. This will help pinpoint the start of any changes.
Emphasis on the word CHANGES. You are looking out for something that WASN’T there the last time you checked.
It could be:
- a lump
- changes to the skin on your areola (the dark area surrounding your nipple), your nipple or to your breast.
- Redness, heat, swelling, dimpling (like the skin of an orange) or scales
- Indentations, a bump, a growing vein
- a retracted nipple or nipple leakage
These are ALL potential abnormalities to be watchful for and issues you need to discuss with your health practitioner.
And by checking a couple of times in your cycle, you can determine what your normal is for those specific days.
Moles are different. They’re not cyclical, and so if you see one that wasn’t there before, it is certainly worth investigating… especially when it’s on your breast.
Abnormal moles are more likely to be a sign of skin cancer, than of breast cancer, but a trip to a dermatologist can tell you what it is.
They have a special instrument for looking at it, and if they believe it to be abnormal, they’ll remove it and perform a biopsy of it.
Tip: Have a photograph taken of your breasts. I had a mole on my breast that I “thought” had always been there. Looking back on some nudes I had taken years earlier, it confirmed that the mole was not there before.
You can’t always rely on your memory.
When things are slow-growing, they can sneak up on you… without you even noticing.
Take pictures and keep them in your journal.
And remember that it’s not just your breasts you need to check, but the area under your armpit as well. That’s where your lymph nodes are located and you need to look there too.
Breast Screening via Breast Self-Examination
This is a safe and personally responsible approach to detecting abnormalities.
There are many guidelines, but most of them include using your fingers to feel each breast, one at a time… while lying down, while upright, and with your arm raised above your head. They also include looking at your breasts in a mirror.
If you don’t come across anything suspicious, or something that wasn’t there before, then you’re most likely fine. If you do find something, then you need to make an appointment with a doctor and see if he confirms your finding.
They’re performing essentially the same thing, but they have more experience doing it. In this case, it’s called a clinical breast examination. And you can ask for one every time you go in for a physical.
Breast Screening via Mammography
I personally disagree with the use and current mandate of regular mammograms.
Women over the age of 40 (or age 50, depending on where you live) are “encouraged”, if not frightened and downright bullied, into having routine mammograms.
In addition, during October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there are massive campaigns to promote this testing as a means of detecting cancer.
In my opinion, the focus should not be on detection, but on prevention.
Instead of being proactive about their breast health, women are relying on it for detection of cancer… after they already have it.
Mammograms don’t prevent cancer, nor are they the most effective means of detecting it. Mammograms are simply the most heavily promoted and sanctioned medical protocol for this.
Unfortunately, mammography is considered the gold standard in cancer detection, and because of this, women get a false sense of security from it.
But, a 25-year follow-up for breast cancer incidence and mortality, from the Canadian National Breast Screening Study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, found that mammograms do not reduce death rates from breast cancer any more than detection by a clinical breast examination.
Furthermore, there are a lot of reasons why mammograms are not only unnecessary but harmful.
Breast compression, which happens during mammography, can actually make existing tumours spread… by causing them to rupture.
Mammography uses an X-ray for the procedure, which raises the issue of radiation exposure, which can increase your risk of breast cancer.
And small breasts, or dense breasts, are not ideal for this type of screening.
Then there is the chance of getting a false positive. This could lead to unnecessary stress, surgery, a mastectomy, or chemotherapy and radiation… all for nothing.
There is also the chance of getting a false negative. This would mean that the existing cancer goes undiagnosed.
Last but not least, is the fact that mammograms can be uncomfortable and even downright painful. Both of these would be acceptable if this type of testing was proven to be effective at reducing cancer rates… but it’s not.
Bottom line: Getting a mammogram should be a woman’s choice. And I believe that greater efforts should be made to help women make more informed decisions about the efficacy and risk factors of this type of screening.
Breast Screening with Magnetic Resonance Imaging
An MRI is not an X-ray, and it has a much better rate of providing an accurate diagnosis than mammography.
It’s better to have a previous baseline breast MRI before the age of 40, to assist in the detection of changes, but even if you don’t, it’s still an excellent screening tool. It’s also less invasive and better for women with smaller and/or denser breasts.
Unfortunately, it’s not typically used for this purpose and can be hard to get because of that. And it’s very expensive.
Breast Screening using Thermography
Thermography is an excellent alternative breast screening tool.
It’s less expensive and much easier to have done than an MRI.
A thermography, or infrared imaging, is used to detect hot spots in your breasts.
Cancer requires a blood supply and nutrients to feed a tumour and the heat that is generated by this can be detected before a lump is even felt.
Furthermore, it’s a non-invasive and painless way to find cancer in the early stages. And it’s suitable for small or dense breasts… whereas mammography is not.
If something is detected, a biopsy (removal of tissue) will be done to determine cancer, regardless. The biopsy will either confirm or deny the diagnosis.
Your biggest issue will be finding a medical doctor that knows about thermography and is willing to send you for that instead of mammography. That’s why you need to be your own health advocate and find a doctor that is open to healthier alternatives for screening and curing cancer. A holistic or naturopathic doctor may be preferable in this case.
Bottom line: Do the best you can to take care of your health and do regular breast self-examinations, and/or clinical breast examinations, to be aware of any changes.
If you find them, seek advice, but don’t be bullied into any testing or procedures that are not in your best interest.
You need to be an advocate for your own health and do what is best for YOU!
Here’s something else to consider…
Regular Breast Massage
Regular breast massage provides a stress-free way of keeping tabs on your breasts.
While I recommend self-breast examination over mammography testing since it’s just as effective at detecting cancer as mammography and doesn’t involve exposure to radiation, breast massage is even better given the negative impact self-breast examination can have on women.
“For decades, women have been encouraged to examine their breasts regularly as a way to find breast cancer at the earliest possible stage, get it treated early, and thus save their lives. This has led to a “search and destroy” approach to breast exams that encourages you to make your hands into mine sweepers in search of something that might kill you. No wonder that many women skip this routine but end up feeling guilty as a result.” ~ Christiane Northrup, MD
Breast massage and paying attention to your breasts is a far more positive approach to breast health and breast screening.
“When a woman attends to her breasts with loving care and a loving consciousness on a regular basis, it is entirely possible that she will be influencing her breast cells in a positive, health-enhancing way. That’s why I recommend a monthly breast self-massage as a healthy and viable alternative to the outmoded BSE (breast self-examination).” ~ Christiane Northrup, MD
The previous article focused on having healthy breasts via a healthy body. Be sure to start there!
Read: Are You Looking After Your Breast Health?
Photo Credit: shutterstock.com/otnaydur