Many of us are familiar with self-exams for unusual breast shapes and lumps, and the necessity of getting mammograms after a certain age, as recommended by a doctor, among other techniques to detect breast problems. As we've learned in other areas of medical history, women have often faced fairly grim or just plain disgusting treatment when they've sought help for their health woes — and the history of breast health is no exception. From deer hearts to bull bile and extremely uncomfortable surgery, women in history with mammary issues, from breast tenderness to cancer, have had to face an onslaught of very bizarre solutions.
Looking at the history of breast medicine is important. For one, it makes us appreciate the wonders of the modern age, complete with its anesthesia, genetic testing, and total lack of strange botanical remedies. (If your doctor is giving you that, you probably want to find a different one.) But it also shows the development of medical concepts about breast health, and the many ways in which sexism has influenced incorrect beliefs about how female bodies operate. In many ways, medicine continues to battle against sexist preconceptions about female bodies and pain, and breasts are only one aspect of a very long-running problem.