October is breast cancer awareness month.  Body literacy and awareness are important concepts for all of us to understand.  This month, here at Eastern Bench, we will be focusing on breast health and awareness. 

Cancer of the breast is the most common site in people with female physiology and it is the second leading cause of death in these individuals.  Fortunately, survival rates have increased and one of the reasons is early detection.

We recommend to all our patients with breasts able to lactate, to follow their doctor’s advice on cancer screenings and to practice breast awareness so they can understand the “normal” look and feel of their breast tissue.  This allows someone to report to their doctor any abnormal changes they observe.

Breast tissue goes through many changes throughout the menstrual cycle and as we age.  They are affected by hormonal changes, pregnancy, breastfeeding, menopause, and when weight is lost or gained.  Chinese medicine also says that breast tissue can be affected by unexpressed emotions which can create stagnation of blood and Qi (pronounced “chee”) in the energetic channels that pass through the breasts.  These include the Liver, Stomach, Kidney, and penetrating vessel. 

How to perform a breast self-exam

Breast self-exams should be performed monthly, one week after the period ends.  It is advised to look at and feel your breast tissue.  There are two parts to the exam:

The first is in front of the mirror and the second, in the shower or bath with a soapy hand.

The first part of the exam is done in front of a mirror.  Undress from the waist up and stand with your shoulders straight and your hands on your hips.  Look at your breasts in the mirror and notice any changes in size, shape or position.  Look for any changes to the skin such as puckering, dimpling, bulging, discoloration, or sores.  Observe your nipples, looking for any sores or changes in the direction of the nipples.  Tighten the muscles beneath your breasts and turn from side to side to observe the sides of your breasts.  Then bend over allowing your breasts to fall forward and look for any changes. Finally, stand upright and lift your breast tissue up to inspect the area underneath. 

The second part of the exam is done in the shower or bathtub.  Get your hand soapy, then glide the flat part of your soapy fingers in a circular motion as if you were washing your breast.  Begin around the armpit and move to the top of the breast checking for any lumps or thickening.  Then move your hand towards the center of the breast, finishing underneath. Use as much pressure as you are comfortable with.  Gently squeeze the nipple to check for any discharge.  Repeat this process on the other breast.

What should you do if you find a lump

Try not to panic.  Most people have some lumps or lumpy areas all the time.  Most turn out to be non-cancerous (benign).  There are a number of reasons for benign breast lumps such as hormonal changes, benign breast conditions such as fibrocystic breasts, or an injury. 

Call your doctor if you’ve noticed a lump or breast change that is new or worrisome, especially if it has lasted more than one full menstrual cycle. 

The advantages of doing breast self-exams

There are several advantages to doing monthly breast self-exams.  A breast self-exam allows the individual control over their own health, provides each person knowledge of what their own breast tissue feels like, is a non-invasive, simple procedure, and can detect breast cancer at an earlier stage than if a person does not perform BSE.

To keep things simple and less overwhelming or worrisome follow our 4-step plan:

  1. Know what is normal and abnormal for you by checking your breasts each month.  The exam should include looking at and feeling for changes.
  2. Look and feel for changes to the size, shape, and contour of your breasts, any lumps (they can be as small as a pea), thickening of the skin, any changes to the appearance of the skin such as puckering or dimpling, redness or inflammation of the skin or nipple, and any discharge from the nipple.
  3. Contact your doctor about any changes you observe.
  4. Keep all your routine breast screenings, especially if you are 50 or over.

According to Chinese medicine, the most common cause of breast disorders is stagnant Liver Qi.  Acupuncture and Chinese medicine can help those struggling with premenstrual breast distention, benign breast disorders and benign breast lumps, get their Liver Qi flowing smoothly again.  There are also several self-care measures that a practitioner of Chinese medicine, such as myself, can teach to help and prevent breast disorders from possibly progressing to more serious breast diseases such as cancer. 

If you have PMS, premenstrual breast distention, or benign breast disorders, we can help! Contact our office at 385-279-2410 to find out what acupuncture and Chinese medicine can do for you!

“Breast Self-Exam”. Breast Cancer. Org. https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/testing/types/self_exam. Accessed 3 October 2021.

“Breast Self-Examination (BSE)”. Breastcancer360.org. https://breast360.org/topic/2015/02/03/breast-self-examination-bse/. Accessed 3 October 2021.