I will admit, my primary-care physician asks me every time I’m in her office if I’ve checked my breasts recently.
“Absolutely!” I say.
The truth is I have no idea what I am looking for. Maybe I should, considering my best friend was recently diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.
One organization is promoting breast-cancer awareness with a slightly fresher approach. Worldwide Breast Cancer educates women about breast-health topics they may be too embarrassed to ask about.
All women should be able to do self-checks
She quit her job teaching design at a London school to be fully devoted to the foundation and breast-cancer awareness. Recently, she moved to Phoenix, Ariz., to help spread the word in the U.S.
“I came up with a campaign that was really friendly and could give people information about breast cancer without having to show breasts,” Ellsworth-Beaumont told AlltheMoms.com.
She looked at jugs, cones and melons for visuals. They were not working.
She stumbled across the lemon and thought, “Lemons have a nipple and when you cut a lemon from navel to navel, it actually resembles the inside of a breast, with milk ducts.”
She said the lemon became the perfect metaphor because the lemon seed is what a cancerous lump often feels like.
Bottom line: She said this campaign tells women to know their bodies. It shows them how to take control and do breast self-checks.
What are we looking for?
In 2016, the McGrath Foundation asked nearly 1,300 women if they knew how to give themselves a breast examination and if they knew what they were looking for.
Although 73 percent of women surveyed had a general idea, only 15 percent could successfully demonstrate a self-check.
Half of women correctly answered, “What does a cancerous lump feel like?” And only 10 percent could identify key breast-cancer risk factors.
Challenges: Literacy, taboos and fear
Breast-cancer education has three roadblocks, according to Worldwide Breast Cancer:
- Literacy: Most health messages are still communicated through confusing medical terminology.
- Taboos: Breasts are associated with sex, often causing images to be censored in public.
- Fear: Talking about cancer and fear of the unknown can be scary.
Risk factors every woman should know
If you’re concerned about breast cancer, consider these six key risk factors.
Worldwide Breast Cancer provided this Breast Cancer Risk Assessment.
Print it, fill it out and then take to your doctor.
- Strong family history of breast cancer.
- Being a woman.
- Being a smoker.
- Early or late start to menopause.
- Drinking alcohol.
- Growing older.
12 signs of breast cancer
Just what should women be looking for when doing self-check exams?
Indications of breast cancer include: Feeling a thick area, dimple(s), nipple crust, red or hot to the touch, unexpected fluid, skin sores, bump(s), growing vein, retracted nipple, new shape or size, orange peel skin and hidden hard lumps.
What happens if you find something?
Eight out of 10 breast lumps are not cancerous, according to American Cancer Society research. Many times, the lumps turn out to be a cyst or fibroadenoma.
But if you have an abnormal check, it’s time to talk to your doctor to schedule a mammogram.
Even if a mammogram comes back normal, sometimes doctors will order additional tests such as MRIs, ultrasounds and blood tests if a woman has higher risk factors.
Both the American Cancer Society and Worldwide Breast Cancer remind women that not all cancerous growths hurt.
They also said women with higher risk factors and those older than 45 should get mammograms yearly.
Have you done your self-check yet? I’m doing mine tonight.