Feel Your Boobies! A Plea For Self-Exams and Early Detection

I know, I know, you’re inundated with pink and tired of listening to people shill for breast cancer awareness.

I understand, I truly do. The corporate takeover of breast cancer awareness, though, does not mean that you don’t have to self-exam, get mammograms, and have an early detection plan.

Breast cancer is still a killer (even though women have other major health issues, breast cancer is one that we should still be concerned about) of women AND men. It will continue to be, until we find a cure.

This post isn’t about a cure, though. This post is about you taking ownership of your health and making sure that you don’t fall victim to stage 4, untreatable cancer. Women’s health is clearly not a priority for the federal government, so we have to take it into our own hands (literally).

First, check yourself. Check out these techniques for proper self-breast exams and make sure that you’re following them to a T. Put an appointment on your Blackberry or Google Calendar to remind you to do it each month. Make a mammogram appointment for yourself on a day when you can take the rest of the day off. You deserve it,  reward yourself for taking care of yourself, your boobs, and your health.

Second, get checked out. Most women should get their first mammogram at age 40, and then yearly each year after.  If you have a family history of breast cancer, get checked out even sooner. Mammograms aren’t fun or awesome, but they save lives. If you’re having difficulty paying for testing (or if someone you know is), there are multiple resources out there to provide every woman with access to this life-saving procedure. Do a quick Google search to find resources in your area, including your local Planned Parenthood.

Third, encourage your dude to get checked out. Men don’t want to talk about breast cancer, but that’s a conversation that needs to be had. If he has family history, make sure that he’s examining himself, and getting checked out on a regular basis. If you can make your dude take out the trash and dress presentably, surely you can talk him into a self-exam.

My favorite tool for organizing an Early Detection Plan is the National Breast Cancer Foundation‘s easy “Create an Early Detection Plan” tool.  This tool allows you to make appointments and set reminders for self-exams, mammograms, and clinical breast exams. It can deliver updates for these appointments via e-mail, text, a calendar update, or RSS feed.

You now have literally NO excuse to not set up your early detection plan. Even if you’re young, getting in the habit of self-exams and regular gynecological exams is only going to mean a healthier life.

About Amy:
Amy is a social media strategist living in Dallas, Texas. She likes music, trashy TV, and ladybiz. tweet: @aemccarthy


  1. freewomyn says:

    Amy, I think it’s important for women who are younger than 40 to start advocating for mammograms to be covered by their insurance plans. My PCP asked me to get a mammogram 2 years ago and the insurance company refused to pay for it, even though the doctor had recommended it. Believe me, I don’t want to go get my tits squished just for shits and giggles. But with a family history of breast cancer, it’s an important test to get.

  2. Absolutely, S. Insurance companies are such assholes when it comes to women!

  3. NYCprochoiceMD says:

    Oh no! I love you guys here at feminists for choice, but the unfortunate truth is that breast self-exams have not been shown to save lives, only to increase the number of biopsies women get. Similarly, mammograms at age 40 have been shown to do more harm than good (though doctors are currently debating this) and every 2 years is as good as every year. The current recommendation is: no self-exams, mammogram starting at 50 for most (after discussing with your doctor), and repeat every 2 years up to age 70, or possibly longer for very healthy 70-yr-olds.

    We all want to think that these things will save lives, and it seems to make sense that they would, but the sad truth is that most of them don’t save or extend lives. Instead of advocating for people to get more of these exams that don’t work, we need to advocate for better early detection methods (mammograms are a really OLD technology!) and better treatment methods.

    I know people will be bad at me for this comment, but I’ve noticed that a lot of these blogs are not putting out the most medically correct info, and women deserve to have the best information available.

  4. freewomyn says:

    NYCChoiceMD, thanks for the clarification. Would you be willing to share more info about what the best forms of early detection are? Thanks! :)

  5. Thanks for not being offended by my corrections! Some of the blogs are a bit touchy.

    The sad truth is that we don’t truly have a good early detection strategy. Mammograms do save some lives, but far fewer than we would want for a truly effective screening method, and mammograms lead to some significant harms.

    Women at high risk for breast cancer (for instance, if they have a sister or mother who got breast cancer prior to menopause) are generally getting breast MRIs starting at age 35, though we don’t have tons of evidence for it. It’s also possible that the new digital mammograms that we’ve been doing the last few years will prove to be more effective at picking up cancer early enough that more people will be helped by them than what we were using previously (unfortunately, these studies take a lot of years to get enough data to draw conclusions).

    As I said, mammograms are unfortunately the best thing we have for now, and women 50-70 should take advantage of their availability. Women age 40-50 should discuss with their doctors; it comes down to personal preference. Some women would rather do the test, knowing that there’s a good chance it will do more harm than good, because they also know there’s a chance it will do them good. Others prefer to wait until they’re 50.

    I’m sorry I don’t have a satisfying answer; I really hope that our realization that mammograms are very flawed will lead to more research to come up with better ways of detecting the most common cancer affecting women.

    We do know a fair amount about prevention; maintaining a healthy weight, eating fruits and vegetables, getting a moderate amount of exercise and not smoking all seem to be preventive against breast cancer. Let your friends and family know that a healthy lifestyle prevents against cancer in addition to all the other benefits that come with it.

    I’d also recommend advocating for improved treatment methods, access to mammograms for women who can’t afford them, and access to treatment for everyone (the health reform act should help a lot by eliminating lifetime limits for coverage).

    Thanks for talking about this issue, it truly is an important health issue for all women.

  6. Awesome info NYCprochoiceMD! It seems that breast cancer awareness month isn’t big on providing actual information, only advertising the idea of awareness.

    Amy–I appreciate you bringing the focus back to being about the health of women (and men) in relation to breast cancer, rather than just breasts. However, to me the slogan “Feel Your Boobies” really emphasizes the focus on the breasts and has blatant sexual innuendos.

  7. Sharon, thanks for the additional info – and now that you say all that I do remember hearing about the new treatment guidelines that were announced over the summer. I really appreciate your emphasis on prevention through health lifestyle.

  8. Sharon,

    MANY thanks! I researched this blog through multiple breast cancer sites and that all seemed to be the common prescription, but I really really appreciate you bringing the medical perspective to the table.

    Kim, I just think “feel your boobies” sounds cute. that’s all.

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