Well Being

Monthly Breast Self-Exams: Do You Do Them? Blisstree Writers Weigh In

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monthly breast checks

The other day, one of my friends tweeted that she had just completed her monthly breast self-exam. Despite my ardent interest in my own health (Yes, I am the woman who makes her own kombucha, uses a menstrual cup and goes to the gynecologist armed with charts of my most recent cycles), I've never actually done a breast self-exam, and I'm not exactly sure why it's not a priority for me. Interested, I decided to ask my fellow Blisstree writers if they do breast self-checks. Here's our conversation:

Carrie Murphy: Monthly breast checks: do you do them? Because I don't

Elizabeth Nolan Brown: no. never have

Carrie: I am all about women’s health and my own health and whatever, but i’m too lazy to do breast checks? That seems dumb. I even track my period with an app on my phone, and the app tells me what day i should do the check! I really need to just DO IT, but I, like, don't even know how

Elizabeth: I guess I’m doubtful about their purpose? But mostly I'm just not that concerned, I guess. Which is … irrational. I don't know; it's just not something on my radar.

Carrie: When my doctor asks me if i do, I say yes but I lie.

Lisa Marie Basile: I don’t do monthly checks either  …. I know how many women have died from breast cancer and yet for some stupid reason I don’t do self-checks. I have done them, but not on any schedule at all, and I probably haven’t done them properly.

Carrie: Hey sam, do you do monthly breast checks?

Sam Escobar: hmmm yes and no … I tend to do them almost every month unintentionally because my boobs always hurt so i need to constantly poke at them to see if there are bruises and record where they ache.

Sam: Also, sorry if that answer was hella TMI

Carrie: No, that’s a good answer and not TMI!

Sam: If my chest didn't often hurt, i think i would forget, to be honest!

Elizabeth: I think I just find something distasteful or gross about it. Which is weird. I’m comfortable naked and comfortable with my body, but self-prodding at it seems icky to me?

Sam: It is!

Carrie: Yeah i feel the same way, kind of.

Elizabeth: Again, it's totes irrational

Sam: I don't think it’s too irrational. Imagining how it looks from the outside is so weird, haha

Carrie: Mmy mom and my grandmother both have “cystic breasts” whatever that is, so I need to do them i think. To make sure the lumps or whatever are not actual lumps? …  Or maybe that should make me do them LESS, if i have lumpy (but generally non-cancerous) breasts in my family, i don’t know.

Sam: Do you have fibrocystic breasts, Carrie?

Carrie: I don't know.

Sam: I do. … And also they tell me that if you have fibrocystic breasts you should do it more. Since that way you can tell the difference between lumps and just lumpy boob tissue, haha.

Carrie: oh interesting, Sam!

Elizabeth: What does that mean, fibrocycstic breasts?

Sam: I want to explain the condition but wikipedia can probably do it much better for me, E http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fibrocystic_breast_changes

Carrie: Once when i was a teenager i thought i had a lump in my breast. I told my parents about it, and they like, wouldn’t let me go anywhere until i let my mom (a nurse) check it. And I was so mortified.

Sam: Oh god; that’s terrifying

Lisa: Is a partner who constantly fondles you a good way of doing the check-up? My boyfriend literally plays with my boobs all day so sometimes I chalk things up and think, ‘well he’d notice.’

Elizabeth: OMG here was a study about this! … Oh, wait, I’m not thinking of a study, i’m thinking of a David Arquette PSA.

Lisa: haha

Elizabeth: He's part of a campaign telling men how to check for lumps in their partner’s breasts. Or how they shouldn't be afraid to say something if they feel something weird. Here it is. 

Lisa: i love that

Carrie: My friend on twitter just said he does them for his wife each month, as instructed by their midwife.

Lisa: nice, I like that.

Carrie: But I think there’s a difference between having someone do it purposefully and just someone touching your boobs all the time?

Lisa: There’s definitely a difference between having someone do it and them just touching you!


Honestly, I feel really hypocritical saying that I don't do breast checks. As I said in the above chat, I'm all about women's health and taking control of my own health, so why aren't I doing something that's simple and completely within my own control? I think part of the reason is that I don't really know how to do them, but that's not even really an excuse; a 2 second Google search reveals literally tons of resources on how to do a self-exam, not to mention the helpful, instructive videos on YouTube, too.

So what is it? Why, among four, educated, health-conscious women, does only one of us regularly perform a health behavior that's widely recommended? Is it fear, laziness, ambivalence, ignorance, or what? Elizabeth, Samantha, Lisa and myself are all under the age of 30, so maybe we just all think we're too young and don't need to worry about it yet? I know that breast health isn't even close to the top of my list of health priorities, even despite the vast awareness of the disease and the many sad stories about  younger women who've been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Interestingly, I just learned that the World Health Organization doesn't recommend that women perform breast self-exams as a tool for cancer prevention. A 2008 study found that  oncologists generally recommend “breast awareness” rather than monthly self-checks, as self-examination can often lead to unnecessary biopsies.

Tell us: Do you do monthly breast checks? Why or why not?

Photo: Flickr user Jeanine Anderson