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Breast Self-Awareness

By Summer Hunt, ELS

Breast Self-Awareness

Breast self-exams are no longer recommended for early detection of breast cancer, but here’s why you should still practice “breast self-awareness.”

As new research has emerged, many experts say there isn’t a lot of evidence that monthly breast self-exams help detect breast cancer. However, it’s important to practice breast self-awareness.

What exactly does that mean? There’s no special technique; all you need to do is get up close and personal with your breasts and be aware of how they look and feel with these questions in mind:

  • Do you feel any knots, lumps or thickening? What about your underarm area?
  • Do you have any swelling or warmth or see redness or darkening?
  • Have your breasts changed in size or shape?
  • Is there any dimpling or puckering of the skin?
  • Have you had any new pains that don’t go away?
  • What about your nipples: Any itchy, scaly sores or rash? Pulling in of the nipple or breast? Are you suddenly experiencing nipple discharge?

None of these are absolute signs of cancer. But if you detect any changes or abnormalities, tell your healthcare provider.

Am I at Risk for Breast Cancer?

The average woman has a 1 in 8 chance of getting breast cancer, but certain risk factors can increase that chance. There are some risk factors that are unavoidable—for example, the main risk factor for breast cancer is being a woman. (Men can get it, too, but it’s about 100 times more common in women.) According to the American Cancer Society, being older is a risk factor, too, as most breast cancers are found in women older than 50. Here are some other risk factors that you can’t change:

  • Specific inherited genes, particularly BRCA1 or BRCA2
  • A mother, sister or daughter with breast cancer almost doubles your risk—BUT most women (8 out of 10) who get breast cancer don’t have a family history
  • Previous cancer in 1 breast means a higher risk of new cancer in the same or in the other breast
  • White women have a slightly higher risk, but breast cancer is more common in African American women age 45 and younger
  • Dense breast tissue, which can also make it harder to see cancers on mammograms
  • Certain non-cancerous (benign) breast conditions, some of which pose a higher risk than others—such as atypical ductal hyperplasia (ADH) and atypical lobular hyperplasia (ALH)
  • Menstruation before age 12 and menopause after 55 can mean a slightly higher risk
  • If you’ve had radiation to your chest as treatment for another cancer (especially if you were young)

It’s still possible to develop breast cancer without any of these risk factors. On the other hand, women can have some of these factors and never have it. In fact, most women won’t. Remember that 1 in 8 chance? The other side of that is 7 out of 8 women born today will NEVER be diagnosed with breast cancer.

Did you know?

Many studies show that having multiple pregnancies (especially before age 30) reduces breast cancer risk—and so does breastfeeding.

Further reading: Prevent Cervical Cancer


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