How to Do a Self Breast Exam

Did you know: More than 50 percent of women discover breast cancer themselves by conducting a self breast exam?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends mammograms and clinical breast exams for women aged 40 and older.

However, a frequent self breast exam may help to detect abnormalities easier assuming you are familiar with what your breasts normally look and feel like.

There are many approaches on how to do a self breast exam, but all follow these same basics:

  • If you are post-menopausal or no longer get your monthly period, you can check your breasts on the same day each month. If you have not yet entered menopause, check yourself several days after your monthly period.
  • Use the finger pads of your hands, not the tips. Use two to three fingers, keeping them flat and together like a scout’s promise.
  • Check the entire breast area, including underneath and in the armpit area.
  • Use a pattern, either up and down, side to side or in a spiral to ensure that you check the entire breast area.
  • It is recommended that you check your breast using three different degrees of pressure: light, medium and deep, so that you can check all layers of tissue.
  • Remove any clothing, including your bra, from the waist up.

What to Check for During a Self Breast Exam

While doing your monthly self breast exam, check for any abnormalities and inform your doctor right away if you detect any of the following:

  • Dimpling
  • Puckering
  • Bulging
  • Change in nipple direction or inversion
  • Redness
  • Soreness
  • Swelling
  • Fluid or discharge from the nipple
  • Peeling or scaling
  • Change in vein patterns

Three Ways to Perform a Self Breast Exam

Standing in Front of a Mirror

While standing in front of a mirror, place your hands on your hips. Roll your shoulders and elbows forward, so that you are hunched over. If one breast appears larger than the other, don’t worry, this is typical for most women and is not an indication of cancer. After you have examined your breasts in this position, raise your arms behind your head and compare, checking for dimpling, puckering or bulging.

After the visual comparison, you can start the physical portion of the self breast exam. You may want to use some moisturizer or skin lotion to ease the process. With your right hand behind your head, use your left hand to check your right breast, using a firm, smooth touch and the methods listed above, checking for lumps, knotting or thickening of tissue. Repeat this process with the opposite breast with the right hand.

In the Shower

Doing a self breast exam in the shower is very similar to performing one in front of a mirror. You will need to raise one arm behind your head while the other one checks the breast area.

Laying Down

If you choose to do a self breast exam while laying down, place a pillow under your shoulder or back for comfort and lift. Turn to the side opposite of the breast you wish to examine. Try to position yourself so that the breast is as flat as possible. Place the arm located on the same side as the breast so that your hand is resting on your forehead.