Breast Self-Exam

What is a breast self-exam?

A breast self-exam (BSE) is checking your breasts monthly for lumps and other changes. Regular self-exams will help you learn how your breasts feel. Checking your breasts will help you find any changes in your breasts from month to month. A professional caregiver should check your breasts at least once each year.

Why should I do a breast self-exam?

More women get breast cancer than any other kind of cancer. The best way to beat breast cancer is to find it early. Learning how to check your breasts can save your life. You may not do BSE because you are "too busy" or "don't know what you are looking for." Some women do not check their breasts because they are afraid of finding a lump. However, women should know that most breast lumps or changes in your breasts are not cancer.

When should I do a breast self-exam?

Every woman should check their breasts every month if they are 20 years or older. The BSE should be done about 1 week after the monthly period because your breasts are not swollen, lumpy, or tender at this time. At first, you will find it hard to know what feels normal and what does not feel normal in your breasts. Regular BSE's will help you learn how your breasts feel normally and if something has changed.

If you have had a hysterectomy, check your breasts on the first day of each month. You should do a BSE at the same time each month if you are pregnant or have gone through menopause (change of life). BSE should also be done each month if you have breast implants.

How do I do a breast self-exam?

The following steps teach you how to check your breasts. 

  • Stand in front of a mirror with your arms at your sides. Look at each breast and nipple to check for swelling, lumps, dimpling, scaly skin or other skin changes. Gently squeeze both nipples and check for discharge (fluid) coming from them
  • Join your hands behind your head and look at your breasts in the mirror. Repeat these steps again with your arms raised over your head.
  • You may find it easier to check your breasts while taking a shower or bath. Lumps can be felt more easily when your skin is wet. Standing in the shower or in front of the mirror, put your right hand behind your head. Use the finger pads of the 3 middle fingers on your left hand to feel your right breast. The top third of each finger is a finger pad.
  • Press firmly on your breast as you move your fingertips. Ask your caregiver if you do not know how hard to press. By pressing firmly you will learn what your breasts feel like most of the time. Check your breasts the same way every month. Choose one of the following three ways to examine your breasts. Make sure you touch all areas of your breasts and underarms during the exam.
  • Circle. Start at the nipple and move your fingertips in a circle around your breast. Include the area under your arms in this circle.
  • Vertical Strips. Move your fingertips up and down your breast from the top to the bottom of your breasts. Include the area under your arms during your exam.
  • Wedge. Picture your breasts like a pie that is cut into pieces. Move your fingertips around your breast, starting at the top of your breast and fanning down to the nipple. Remember to examine under your arms.
  • Now lie down and put a pillow or towel under your left shoulder. Put your left hand over your head. Gently press into the skin of your left breast using the pads of the middle three fingers of your right hand. Move your finger pads in a circle, up and down, or like a wedge as you feel your breast tissue.
  • Move the pillow or towel under your right shoulder. Check your right breast the same way. Gently use pressure as you move the fingers of your left hand around your breast. Feel the skin deep in your breasts and the skin near the top.
  • Raise your left arm and use the pads of your first three fingers of your right hand to feel in and around your armpit. Do the same thing with the other armpit.

 It is important that you remember to call your caregiver if you: 

  • Find Any Lumps or Changes in Breasts
  • Have Breast Pain or Fluid Coming from Nipples