Breast Self-Exam: An Opportunity for Early Detection or Anxiety?

Believe it or not, breast self-exams have often been criticized for causing undue anxiety and doctor’s visits for many women.

These critics of breast self-exam argue that many women are normally lumpy and bumpy, and so self-exam can lead to worry and anxiety about what they are feeling. My opinion is that every woman should know what is normal for her own body (not just her breasts), and perform self-exam once a month.

Breast Self-Exam How-to | Breast Cancer CheckKnowing your body’s “normal” will increase the chance that you would find a new lump that is not normal, and approximately 10-15% of breast cancers are not seen on mammograms.  Doctors would never tell a woman (or man!) not to be familiar with what’s normal for any other part of the body, so why stop at breasts- especially when recognizing an unfamiliar lump could alert you to something a mammogram may miss?

Both men and women are advised, for example, to be familiar with skin changes and moles so that if something new develops, a skin cancer could potentially be detected early. Breast exam should not be an exception to this: the more familiar you are with what’s normal for you, the higher the likelihood that you would identify something that’s not normal, and the lower the likelihood that self-exam will lead to unnecessary anxiety and worry.

And I’m hardly the only one who believes this. From

Johns Hopkins Medical center states,

“Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important.”

​”…​when combined with regular medical care and appropriate guideline-recommended mammography, breast self-exams can help women know what is normal for them so they can report any changes to their healthcare provider.”

Breast self-exam is most certainly an opportunity for early detection. The more you know your body, the better able you’ll be to take care of it!


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