Ever since you hit puberty and started wearing a bra you've been to do breast self-exams. But between the guilt of feeling like you don’t do them often enough, to the regular freak-outs about thinking you’ve found something, the whole process can be downright stressful.
But does it have to be?
According to Therese Bevers, MD, medical director of the Cancer Prevention Center at MD Anderson, there is a shift away from old-school self-checks.
"Most of the groups have moved away from a specific recommendation for breast self-exam and instead use the idea of 'breast awareness' as the concept that we want to communicate," Dr Bevers tells Refinery29.
In other words, rather than advocating physical self checks, many doctors now believe we should be taking a more holistic approach to your girls - and knowing what’s normal, what’s not and what's changed.
The shift comes after a study of more than 260,000 women in China conducted over 12 years found that there was no mortality difference between participants who conducted self-exams and those who didn’t.
"People ask what women should women look for, but I try really hard not to be specific," adds Dr. Bevers. "If you see or feel a change — I don’t care what it is — you need to get it checked out."
Dr Alessandra Muntoni of the National Breast Cancer Foundation told marie claire that early detection of breast cancer is crucial.
“Screening mammograms are a very important tool, and women are recommended to undergo mammographic screening depending on their individual age and risk of developing breast cancer,” says Dr Muntoni.
“Women should be aware of how their breasts normally look and feel and, if they notice a change, they should see their doctor as soon as possible.”
Things to look out for include, but are not limited to:
- A lump.
- Change in size or shape of the breast.
- Change in shape of the nipple, or discharge from the nipple.
- A change in the skin, like redness, change in colour, dimpling.
But this isn't permission to slack off with breast awareness.
Just last week a British woman shared her story of finding a lump thanks to a self-exam.
Hayley Browning was diagnosed with breast cancer three weeks after discovering a lump in her breast, which Ms Browning says she could only feel when lying down.
“I could only feel the lump while lying down and it completely disappeared standing up,” she wrote in a Facebook post, which has since gone viral.
“Most websites tell you to check for lumps in the shower but if I had followed this advice, the lump may have grown too large to be treatable. Not even the surgeon could feel my lump when I was standing up.
“I’m hoping to share a little trick of mine with as many people as possible, which could potentially help save someone’s life. So, this is a call out to all women to check for lumps lying down, as well as standing up,” she continued.
“As I think about my long journey ahead and the chemotherapy I will undertake, I want to reach as many people with this message and help find more #LaidBackLumps.”
Obviously every body is different and if you’re unsure you should always speak with a medical professional about the best course of action for you, and undergo regular check ups with your GP.