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Breast Self-Exams = Best Self Empowerment

The other night I caught a report on the eleven o' clock news that stopped my channel surfing cold. I was stunned to hear that monthly breast self-examinations were no longer suggested as an important method of diagnosing breast cancer. The reporter quoted the American Cancer Society's new guidelines that say "Mammography is so far the only screening method that has been consistently proven to reduce deaths from breast cancer…."

I could not believe my ears. In an instant, the television news report took away my feeling of control over the possibility of helping myself live a longer and healthier life. It made me angry that a brief sound bite might make millions of women let down their guard or feel stupid for having been so conscientious all their lives.

It is no doubt great news to hear about the success of mammography. Women should be encouraged to keep current with their yearly exams. Universally, it has been recommended that women start their yearly mammograms at the age of forty. That is when I had my first exam. I, like many women, never went back. It was costly and I didn't think I had any reason to be concerned.

Even during the years that I thought, "it could never happen to me" I was at least very aware of my breasts and I performed self-exams with some regularity taking the time to observe them for any perceptible changes. I am sure that I am not unique.

If I didn't get myself in for regular mammograms, wouldn't it be better to at least be doing the self-exams? For many, many women this has been the case. I have personally met and spoken to scores of women who have found the lumps that lead to their breast cancer diagnosis through self-examination. Especially now that my ovarian cancer has made me a part of the cancer community.

I understand that a well-timed mammogram may have detected a tumor or calcification in an earlier stage, but what if you are in-between exams with a fast-growing cancer? Or, like so many women, not making a yearly exam a priority. Isn't it better to be doing something preventative?

What about the rate of women younger than 40 who are getting breast cancer these days? In their twenty's, most women feel they are invincible. They have never had anything threaten their health and they don't understand how much 'an once of prevention' can truly be worth. Shouldn't we be recommending yearly mammograms from the age of twenty as the National Breast Cancer Foundation suggests? If younger women can't be convinced shouldn't they at least learn to give themselves an exam at home?

On the American Cancer Society's Website an article dated 5/15/2003 states, "Under the new guidelines, BSE [breast self-examination] is being recognized as a way for women to know how their breasts normally feel and notice any changes. This approach focuses on the importance of self-awareness compared to early detection….Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer ….more than 200,000 women will be diagnosed with it this year, and nearly 40,000 will die from it."

OK, I get it, the mammogram could improve the odds of finding breast cancer at an earlier stage. Believe me, I will now get them regularly. But not because I have been told that my self-examinations may not catch an abnormality as early. For me, it is because I have learned the hard way that none of us are immune from the possibility of cancer.

I will also continue to do my monthly self-examinations because I prefer to know that if the science, or timing fail me, I may be able to help myself.

We at ChemoChicks feel so strongly about Breast Self-Exams that we are pleased bring you the Breast-Tee®. A great gift to yourself and for all the women that you love.

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