Breast Cancer Awareness month
For Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we wanted to talk about performing a monthly self-examination to help prevent late detection. In addition, as exercise specialists, we wanted to provide research-informed guidance when choosing the right support/sports brassiere. It's important to emphasize the importance of finding bras that provide adequate support, and comfort, and minimize breast movement during physical activity.
While there isn't direct scientific evidence linking sports bras to breast cancer prevention, we can discuss the essential factors to consider for your breast health.
The Importance of Proper Support
Inadequate breast support during physical activity can lead to discomfort and pain, especially for those with larger breasts. High-impact sports like running can exacerbate these issues. A well-fitted sports bra can significantly reduce breast movement, promoting comfort and long-term breast health.
Proper Fit Matters
Getting the right fit is crucial. Your body changes over time, so it's essential to measure yourself regularly and adjust your bra size accordingly. A well-fitting sports bra provides the support you need and minimizes discomfort.
Prioritize Breast Health
While the focus is on sports bras, remember that regular breast self-exams and mammograms are essential for breast cancer screening. Don't substitute a sports bra for regular check-ups – they serve different purposes.
Material and Design
Look for sports bras made of breathable and moisture-wicking materials to reduce friction and irritation during exercise. Some bras offer additional features like adjustable straps, encapsulation cups, and underwire for added support and comfort.
Choose the Right Impact Level
Different sports bras are designed for various impact levels (low, medium, high). Choose one that suits your activity. High-impact sports require maximum support to prevent discomfort.
Explore Brands and Models
Many reputable manufacturers produce quality sports bras. Explore different brands and models to find one that suits your needs and preferences. It's not about the brand; it's about the right fit and features.
Prioritise Comfort and Personal Preference
Ultimately, your comfort is key. What works for one person may not work for another. Try on various styles and brands to find the one that feels the best for you during physical activity.
Wearing and Care
Learn the proper way to wear and care for your sports bras. This ensures they last longer and maintain their effectiveness.
In addition to good support, another topic of interest became clear to us when researching the latest information on breast cancer awareness that. Research show that despite the knowledge of breast cancer being quite common (1), the ability to prevent it through self-examination and regular screening are two common barriers (1). Regular screening is an important part of preventing any type of cancer, and the sooner it is diagnosed, the sooner treatment can begin. In South Africa, the lack of screening could be due to low incomes in relation to the high charge of medical screening. Looking at a range of doctors' rooms and clinics, consultation prices range from R350 – R2500 for basic checkups to mammograms with a specialist (2–4). A few public hospitals offer breast exams for free, but often with exceptionally long waiting lists, making the chance of routine checks unlikely (3–5).
Another option for screening, which is completely non-invasive and free, is self-screening. This includes monthly self-checks of the breast tissue to determine any hard masses or changes in the tissue. The importance of self-screening is not only meant for women over the age of 40 or even post-menopausal women as originally believed. Self-screening needs to start in pre-menopausal young women, as they are more likely to develop unfavourable breast cancer subtypes with a higher mortality rate (1). This advancement in young women experiencing dangerous subtypes may be due to delayed diagnosis due to low suspicion of both the patient and the doctor.
So, how do we properly check our breasts?
Examine your breasts in the mirror, first with your hands at your hips and then with your hands above your head. You should be looking for any changes between the breasts in size, shape, or colour. Also, pay attention to any dimpling or bulging of the skin or any redness, pain, or swelling. The final thing to look for is any kind of liquid or fluid coming out of the nipples, whether it be clear, milky, yellow, or bloody. Any of these changes should be brought to your doctor's attention (6).
Examine your breast while lying down, with one arm behind your head and the other for feeling. This is when you should be checking for any lumps within the breast tissue. The easiest way to palpate the tissue is by using the pads of your first two fingers, using a firm, circular motion around every part of the breast. This area should be from below your collar bone to the top of your tummy, from the side of your armpit back to the centre of your chest (6).
Do the same while standing. A lot of women say it's easiest to do this when in the shower, as the skin is wet and slightly easier to palpate (6).
Don't panic if you find a lump! Most women have a few lumps and bumps within their breast tissue that may be due to hormonal changes or may be benign. Any changes in the breast should be flagged and discussed with a nurse or doctor, preferably one who has checked your breasts before (6). It’s important to note that a cancerous lump is often very hard, and not soft (5). Women have used terms such as grainy and lumpy to describe normal breast tissue, where cancer is palpated more like a rock than anything soft (5).
Make this routine. Checking your breasts more regularly can make it easier to determine any changes. Doctors recommend checking once a month at home, and once a year at a clinic with a nurse or doctor (6). We recommend doing this at the same yearly appointment for your pap test with your gynaecologist or doctor to screen for cervical cancer.
In conclusion, while choosing the right sports bra is crucial for comfort and support during exercise, it's essential to remember that sports bras are not a direct measure for breast cancer prevention. Prioritize your breast health through regular self-exams and screenings. It should be noted that self-checking is not enough (1, 5, 6) and if not done properly, it can lead to unnecessary biopsies and an increase in health anxiety (1). It’s important that self-checking is paired with the following screening tools, whenever possible: exams by a doctor, mammography, and ultrasound or MRI examination (6). The most important thing about examining your breasts is getting to know them first. You need to take the time to look at them in a mirror and to feel how they normally feel. The better you know your breasts, the easier it will be to pick up any changes (6). By taking these steps, you're investing in your overall well-being, both on and off the field.
Yours in Sports Science
Sports Science Institute of South Africa
- Hindmarch S, Gorman L, Hawkes RE, Howell SJ, French DP. “I don’t know what I’m feeling for”: young women’s beliefs about breast cancer risk and experiences of breast awareness. BMC Womens Health. 2023 Dec 1;23(1).
- My Medical Aid. How Much does it Cost to See a Gynecologist in South Africa? 2023.
- Well Women. Bone and Breast Care. Mammograms Vs. Breast Ultrasounds: Which is better for early detection?
- Netcare Hospital. Innovative NetcarePlus GP Vouchers first in a range of new healthcare products to be launched.
- Comander Amy. What does Breast Cancer Lump Feel Like? 2022.
- Boraas Marcia, Gupta Sameer. Breast Self-Exam. 2023.