How to Do a Breast Cancer Self-Exam
Regular self-exams can help you detect breast cancer early. Here’s how to feel for lumps, bumps, and other unusual changes.
You may be years away from your first mammogram, but experts still recommend that you get to know your breasts—how they look and how they feel—starting right now. What's the urgency? Though only 5 percent of breast cancers occur in women under 40, people of all ages can experience breast lumps, pain, or nipple discharge.
Examining your own breast regularly can help you recognize problems as they arise, because the best defense against breast cancer is a good offense. In fact, in those younger than 50 years old, more than 70 percent of breast cancers are discovered by the woman herself, says the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
The National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) recommends breast self-exams once a month. "Look for any changes in breast tissue, such as changes in size, feeling a palpable lump, dimpling or puckering of the breast, inversion of the nipple, redness or scaliness of the breast skin, redness or scaliness of the nipple/areola area, or discharge of secretions from the nipple," according to the NBCF website.
Are you wondering how to do a self breast exam? Our demos gives you an easy way to get started with three simple steps.
Breast Self-Exam in the Shower
Wet, soapy hands make it easier to slide your fingers over your skin and feel what's beneath the surface.
1. Use your right hand to examine your left breast, and your left hand to examine your right breast.
2. Holding your fingers flat, move the pads of the fingers gently over every part of each breast. Move fingers in small circles in an up-and-down pattern over the breast.
3. Check for any lump, hard knot, or thickening. Carefully observe any changes in your breast.
Breast Self-Exam Lying Down
1. Place a pillow under your right shoulder, and fold your right arm behind your head.
2. With the pads of your fingers of the left hand, press right breast gently in small circular motions, moving in an up-and-down pattern across your whole breast. Use a combination of light and firm pressure.
3. Don't neglect to gently check your nipple for lumps.
4. Repeat these steps for your left breast, beginning by placing the pillow under your left shoulder.
Breast Self-Exam in Front of a Mirror
Check for changes in the look and/or shape of your breasts, including skin changes such as dimpling or nipple discharge. Continue to watch your breasts carefully as you:
1. Stand with your arms relaxed at your sides.
2. Raise your arms overhead.
3. Place your hands on your hips and flex your chest muscles firmly.
4. Bend forward.
As you do these movements, remember that your right and left breast may not match exactly—most women's don't.
Helpful Tips for Breast Self-Exams
As you complete your breast cancer self-exam, keep the following tips in mind.
Timing is important. Examine your breasts seven to ten days after your period starts, when they're less lumpy.
Size matters. It should take a C-cup woman twice as long to examine her breasts as it does an A-cup woman.
Comparison is key. Found a nodular mass in one breast? If you notice the same grainy texture in a similar area in the other breast, it could be your normal tissue.
You shouldn't squeeze your nipples. Doctors now know that discharge is a perfectly normal response to nipple massage.
Don't skimp any areas. Breast tissue extends up into the armpits, around the side and toward the collarbone, so don't neglect those areas.
Know that changes during pregnancy and breastfeeding are normal. Hormones skyrocket during pregnancy. Your breasts can double in weight, and blood flow to the area increases by 180 percent. The changes are especially apparent during your first trimester and later while you're breastfeeding. How can you tell worrisome changes from normal ones during this time of frantic breast growth? Do a monthly breast self-exam. Bring any strange finding—a distinct lump, an area of firmness, a red or inflamed section of the breast, or anything new that you haven't felt before—to your OB-GYN's attention.