How to Do a Breast Self-Exam

According to Johns Hopkins Medical Center, “Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important.”

We encourage all adult women to perform breast self-exams (BSE) at least once a month.

The procedure is below. We recommend you do it one week after your period, but it’s more important that you do it regularly at around the same time each month. (Menstrual changes can make your breasts temporarily lumpy.)

Mammograms detect early cancer, but BSE give you the confidence to know what your breasts look and feel like, so you can contact your doctor any time you notice changes. There are three main parts to a BSE, described below. If you feel anything out of the ordinary, contact your doctor.

While Showering
Examine each breast with the pads of your fingers, moving around your breast in a continuous circle from the outside and working to the nipple. Extend the exam to your underarm area. Check both breasts for any thickening, hardening, or lump.

After Your Shower
Stand in front of a mirror with your hands at your sides. Look for any irregularity or change in your breasts. Look for lumps, new spots, dimpling, or nipple changes. Raise your arms over your head, carefully look at your breasts, and then press your hands into your waist or hips to flex your pectoral (chest) muscles. Look for any changes, and know that your breasts will not match exactly.

While Lying Down
Put your right arm behind your head, and move the pads of the fingers of your left hand around your breast as you did in the shower. Cover the entire armpit and breast area with circular motions, using varying pressures. Lying down flattens your breasts and makes them easier to check. Pinch the nipple and check for discharge or discoloration. Repeat on the left breast.

Doing a BSE every month helps you know what is normal for your breasts so you can alert your doctor to any changes. Four out of five lumps are not cancerous, so don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions or concern.