To Do a Breast Examination
It is very important for women to do breast examinations monthly. Breast self-exam (BSE), or regularly examining your breasts on your own, can be an important way to find a breast cancer early, when it's more likely to be treated successfully.
Adult women of all ages are encouraged to perform a breast self-exam at least once a month. If you’re new to breast self-exams, here are some guidelines:
Pick the same time of the month – Because of the normal hormonal fluctuations in a woman’s body that affect breast tissue, it is important to select the same time every month so you will be able to distinguish between a normal change and something that feels different.
Premenopausal women: Do your exam toward the end of your menstrual period. The end of the menstrual cycle is the time when hormonal changes have the least influence on breast tissue, and the breasts are the least tender.
Postmenopausal women: Choose a day of the month (e.g., the 1st or 15th of the month) and consistently perform your breast self-exam on that same day every month.
Examine your breasts in the shower – Use circular motions to identify the geography of your breasts. The first few times you do this may feel strange. But you will get to know the feeling of each breast so well, that if a change does occur you’ll notice it immediately.
Perform the exam again that same day but lying down – This way you will develop a feeling for your breasts in a different position, allowing for greater knowledge of the way your breasts feel. Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important.
What Is a Breast Self-Exam?
It’s way for you to check your breasts for changes, such as lumps or thickenings. You’ll look at and feel both breasts. If you notice anything unusual, tell your doctor. In many cases, those changes aren’t cancer, but you need to see your doctor to find out.
How Do I Do a Breast Self-Exam?
If you choose to do one, follow these steps:
In the mirror:
Stand undressed from the waist up in front of a large mirror in a well-lit room. Look at your breasts. If they aren’t equal in size or shape, that’s OK! Most women's breasts aren't. With your arms relaxed by your sides, look for any changes in size, shape, or position, or any breast skin changes. Look for any puckering, dimpling, sores, or discoloration.
Check your nipples and look for any sores, peeling, or change in their direction.
Place your hands on your hips and press down firmly to tighten the chest muscles beneath your breasts. Turn from side to side so you can look at the outer part of your breasts.
Then bend forward toward the mirror. Roll your shoulders and elbows forward to tighten your chest muscles. Your breasts will fall forward. Look for any changes in their shape or contour.
Now, clasp your hands behind your head and press your hands forward. Again, turn from side to side to inspect your breasts' outer portions. Remember to look at the border underneath them. You may need to lift your breasts with your hand to see it.
Check your nipples for discharge fluid. Place your thumb and forefinger on the tissue surrounding the nipple and pull outward toward the end of the nipple. Look for any discharge. Repeat on your other breast.
In the shower:
Feel for changes in the breast. It helps to have your hands slippery with soap and water.
Check for any lumps or thickening in your underarm area. Place your left hand on your hip and reach with your right hand to feel in the left armpit. Repeat on the other side.
Check both sides for lumps or thickenings above and below your collarbone.
With hands soapy, raise one arm behind your head to spread out the breast tissue. Use the flat part of your fingers from the other hand to press gently into the breast. Follow an up-and-down pattern, moving from bra line to collarbone. Continue the pattern until you have covered the entire breast. Repeat on the other side.
Lie down and place a small pillow or folded towel under your right shoulder. Put your right hand behind your head. Place your left hand on the upper portion of your right breast with fingers together and flat. Body lotion may help to make this easier.
Think of your breast as a face on a clock. Start at 12 o'clock and move toward 1 o'clock in small circular motions. Continue around the entire circle until you reach 12 o'clock again. Keep your fingers flat and in constant contact with your breast. When the circle is complete, move in 1 inch toward the nipple and complete another circle around the clock. Continue in this pattern until you've felt the entire breast. Make sure to feel the upper outer areas that extend into your armpit.
Place your fingers flat and directly on top of your nipple. Feel beneath the nipple for any changes. Gently press your nipple inward. It should move easily.
Repeat these steps on your other breast. Don’t forget to check the upper, outer area of the breast, nearest to the armpit.
What Should I Do if I Find a Lump?
An area that is different from any other area on either breast
A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm that lasts through your menstrual cycle
A change in the size, shape, or contour of the breast
A mass or lump
A marble-like area under the skin
A change in the feel or appearance of the skin on the breast or nipple (dimpled, puckered, scaly, or inflamed)
Bloody or clear fluid discharge from the nipples
Redness of the skin on the breast or nipple