Health & Wellness

27-year-old woman has important message about breast self-exams

Most women are taught to conduct breast self-exams while in the shower, but the way 27-year-old Hayley Browning recently spotted a lump in her breast was unexpected: It was only detectable when she was lying down.

It was this finding that led her to a doctor and ultimately a cancer diagnosis, but Browning didn’t leave it there — she took to Facebook to hopefully educate other women.

"So, this is a call out to all women to check for lumps lying down, as well as standing up," she wrote in the post below.

“I felt it was important to share my learning,” Browning told TODAY via email. “This helped me find my lump early enough for it to be treatable.”

To date, her post has received over 100,000 Facebook likes and shares, and thousands of comments expressing gratitude for the information.

Is a self-exam necessary?

The American Cancer Society no longer recommends frequent breast self-exams because research doesn't show they provide a clear benefit or save women's lives. But many doctors still do a clinical breast exam on their patients during annual checkups and advise women to be aware of what's normal for their breasts, including how they look and feel.

“Many lumps are picked up by women themselves, in between their scheduled screenings,” oncologist Dr. Bonnie Reichman, a clinical associate of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, told TODAY.

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Reichman agreed that it’s incredibly important to be aware of your own body.

“Women should do it [their breast self-exams] the same time of the month,” said Reichman. “You should know your breasts and know of any changes.”

It's also important to do breast self-exams in varying positions, she said.

That includes: standing in front of a mirror; while lying down; and with arms raised above the head.

The number of women under 40 diagnosed with breast cancer is small enough to render monthly breast self-exams unnecessary, but “awareness of what your breast normally looks like is important,” said Dr. Mylin Torres, director of the Emory Glenn Family breast center. “And if there’s a change, you need to see your doctor about it.”

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What about screening?

Medical experts agree that women should get a mammogram to screen for breast cancer, but there is debate over what age women should get their first mammogram and how often it should be done. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends mammogram screenings every other year for women ages 50-74. Whether to begin regular mammogram screenings before the age of 50 should be an individual decision, the task force advises, with a patient's personal health history taken into account.

Most organizations agree that if you have a higher-than-average risk you should start early.

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“The question is what constitutes above average risk?” asked Torres. “We have some good hints: breast density, family history. But it’s really… it’s a complex issue.”

The conclusion? The best thing you can do is know your own body.

Browning offered the perfect advice: “I just want to encourage everyone to consult your doctor as soon as you feel something you are unsure of. Just don't delay booking that appointment.”

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