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Breast self-exam

A breast self-exam is a check-up a woman does at home to look for changes or problems in the breast tissue. Many women feel that doing this is important to their health.

However, experts do not agree about the benefits of breast self-exams in finding breast cancer or saving lives. Talk to your health care provider about whether breast self-exams are right for you.

Information

The best time to do a monthly self-breast exam is about 3 to 5 days after your period starts. Do it at the same time every month. Your breasts are not as tender or lumpy at this time in your monthly cycle.

If you have gone through menopause, do your exam on the same day every month.

Begin by lying on your back. It is easier to examine all breast tissue if you are lying down.

  • Place your right hand behind your head. With the middle fingers of your left hand, gently yet firmly press down using small motions to examine the entire right breast.
  • Next, sit or stand. Feel your armpit, because breast tissue goes into that area.
  • Gently squeeze the nipple, checking for discharge. Repeat the process on the left breast.
  • Use one of the patterns shown in the diagram to make sure that you are covering all of the breast tissue.
Breast self-exam

Next, stand in front of a mirror with your arms by your side.

  • Look at your breasts directly and in the mirror. Look for changes in skin texture, such as dimpling, puckering, indentations, or skin that looks like an orange peel.
  • Also note the shape and outline of each breast.
  • Check to see if the nipple turns inward.

Do the same with your arms raised above your head.

Your goal is get used to the feel of your breasts. This will help you to find anything new or different. If you do, call your provider right away.

Alternative Names

Self-examination of the breast; BSE; Breast cancer - BSE; Breast cancer screening - self exam

References

American Cancer Society. Recommendations for early breast cancer detection in women without breast symptoms. Revised October 20, 2015. www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/moreinformation/breastcancerearlydetection/breast-cancer-early-detection-acs-recs. Accessed April 25, 2016.

US Preventive Services Task Force. Breast cancer: screening. February 2016. www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/Page/Document/UpdateSummaryFinal/breast-cancer-screening1. Accessed April 25, 2016.

Update Date 2/27/2016

Updated by: Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, general surgery practice specializing in breast cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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