Women should try to get in the habit of doing a self breast exam once a month. Becoming familiar with how your breasts feel and look is an important part of establishing good breast health. Examine yourself several days after your period ends, when your breasts are least likely to be swollen and tender. If you are no longer having periods, pick a day that is easy to remember, such as the first or last day of the month.
The truth of the matter is that no woman likes to do a BSE. After all, how could she? The very concept—an inspection for “something” that could be cancer—is incredibly anxiety-provoking. The best way to help offset this apprehension is to get to know your breasts. Breasts are by their very nature lumpy and bumpy. Your task is to get familiar with your unique lumps and bumps, so you can learn to recognize anything unusual.
As Dr. Christiane Northrup recommends in her wonderful book on women’s health, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, “If a woman approaches her breasts in this way, to get to know them and not just to find lumps, she’ll be surrounding them with a much more positive energy field than the usual energy engendered by the breast self-exam, in which you examine to find what you don’t want to find. Examining your breasts in a spirit of fear simply increases the fear and is the opposite of what you need to create healthy breast tissue. One of my patients who has had a lumpectomy for breast cancer embodies the healthy way of examining breasts. She feels her breasts regularly and knows their anatomy well. And every morning, before she gets up, she says to them, ‘Girls, you’re safe with me!’”
One way to help the BSE be less anxiety-provoking is to make it a more routine, relaxed part of your normal self-care routine. Dr. Northrup suggests taking a monthly breast care ritual bath. Prepare a warm bath, light scented candles, and put on some calming music. As you relax, slowly massage each part of your body, starting at your feet and working your way upwards. Check in with your breasts along the way, but don’t give them any more or less attention than you do the other parts of your body. This helps keep the breast exam in the right context. By not making a big deal about it, much of the anxiety and tension of the self-examination is diffused.