Breast Self Exam

What is a breast self-exam?

According to the American Cancer Society’s Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines: Update 2003, a breast self-exam is an important part of general breast health, as opposed to cancer detection. It is important to understand and discuss with your provider about the limitations and benefits of BSE and know that it is acceptable to choose not to do BSE or to do it occasionally. Women should be aware of what their breasts normally feel like and look like, and to be attuned to any change. It is important to report any change to your provider promptly.

Why should I do a breast self-exam?

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer that afflicts American women and the second leading cause of death from cancer for women (after lung cancer). About 1 in every 11 women eventually develops breast cancer. However, when breast cancer is found early and treated immediately, the chances for cure are much improved. For this reason, women should be sure to perform monthly self-exams.

When is the best time to examine my breasts?

Examine your breasts a week after the end of your period, when your breasts usually aren’t tender or swollen.

How do I do a breast self-exam?

  1. Stand before a mirror. Inspect both breasts for anything unusual such as any discharge from the nipples or puckering, dimpling, or scaling of the skin.The next two steps are designed to emphasize any change in the shape or contour of your breasts. As you do them, you should be able to feel your chest muscles tighten.
  2. Watching closely in the mirror, clasp you hands behind your head and press your hands forward.
  3. Next, press your hands firmly on your hips and bow slightly toward your mirror as you pull your shoulders and elbows forward. Some women do the next part of the exam in the shower because fingers glide over soapy skin, making it easy to concentrate on the texture underneath.
  4. Lying on the bed, raise your left arm. Use three or four fingers of your right hand to explore your left breast firmly, carefully, and thoroughly. Beginning at the outer edge, press the flat part of your fingers in small circles, moving the circles slowly around the breast. Gradually work toward the nipple. Be sure to cover the entire breast. Pay special attention to the area between the breast and the underarm, including the underarm itself. Feel for any unusual lump or mass under the skin. Next, lower your arm and examine the armpit using the same technique and repeat on the opposite breast.
  5. In addition to lying down, BSE may also be done in the shower for a thorough and complete exam.
  6. Examples of patterns (refer to graphic above)
  7. When should I call the provider?

    If you find a lump, dimple, or discharge during your breast self-exam, see your provider as soon as possible. Don’t be frightened. Most lumps are not cancerous, but only a health care provider can make the diagnosis.