A self-exam will help you learn the normal shape and feel of your breast. They also make it easier to notice changes. If you have felt a lump, it should be checked even if your last mammography result was normal. If your exam shows a lump or if the results are not clear, more tests will be needed. Below are the different methods to giving yourself a self-exam.
Always do the self-exam in good light. Stand or sit in front of a mirror. Place arms at your sides. Look for dimpling puckering, or redness of the breast skin, discharge from the nipples or changes in the breast size or shape. Look for the same signs with your hands pressed tightly on your hips and then with your arms raised high.
Lie flat on your back. Place a folded towel or a pillow under your left shoulder and place your left hand under or over your head. You can also feel for changes when you are standing or when you are a shower or bath. It often is easier to examine your breasts when they are smooth and wet with soap and water.
With your right hand, keeping the fingers flat and together, gently feel your left breast without pressing too hard. Use one of the three methods shown here. Then switch arms and do the exam on the other breast.
How Should A Breast Self-Exam Be Performed?
In the Shower
Using the pads of your fingers, move around your entire breast in a circular pattern moving from the outside to the center, checking the entire breast and armpit area. Check both breasts each month feeling for any lump, thickening, or hardened knot. Notice any changes and get lumps evaluated by your healthcare provider.
In Front of a Mirror
Visually inspect your breasts with your arms at your sides. Next, raise your arms high overhead.
Look for any changes in the contour, any swelling, or dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples. Next, rest your palms on your hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles. Left and right breasts will not exactly match—few women’s breasts do, so look for any dimpling, puckering, or changes, particularly on one side.
When lying down, the breast tissue spreads out evenly along the chest wall. Place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently in small circular motions covering the entire breast area and armpit.
Use light, medium, and firm pressure. Squeeze the nipple; check for discharge and lumps. Repeat these steps for your left breast.
Choose One Of These Methods
Circle: Begin at the top of your breast and move your fingers slowly around the outside in a large circle. When you return to the top, move your hand a little closer to the nipple and make smaller circles until you have examined all of the breast tissue.
Lines: Begin the underarm area. Slowly move your fingers down until they are below your breast. Move your fingers closer toward your nipple and go slowly back up, using the same motion. Use this up-and-down pattern all the way across your breast.
Wedge: Begin at the outside of your breast. Slowly work your way in toward the nipple, doing 1 wedge-shaped section at a time. Do this until the entire breast area has been examined.
- With any pattern, be sure to examine the nipples also. Gently squeeze the nipple and check for any discharge.
- Examine the upper chest area and below the armpits. These places also have breast tissue.
- Call your health care provider if you notice any lumps or changes is your breast.
Most breast problems are benign, but breast cancer can occur. Check your breast every month. Use these methods as a guide to doing the self-exam. Breast problems can be treated with success if they are found early. If you find a lump, schedule an appointment with your doctor, but don’t panic — 8 out of 10 lumps are not cancerous. For additional peace of mind, you can always contact us if you have any questions or to set up an appointment.
(Some information provided by The National Breast Cancer Foundation).