Should You Do a Breast Self-Exam?

It’s a good idea to get to know what’s normal for your breasts. That way, you can check in with your doctor if you notice something unusual, such as a lump, skin change, or discharge.

But should you do a breast self-exam? Medical groups don’t agree on that. You can ask your doctor for advice on whether it would be helpful for you.

What Is a Breast Self-Exam?

It’s way for you to check your breasts for changes, such as lumps or thickenings. You’ll look at and feel both breasts. If you notice anything unusual, tell your doctor. In many cases, those changes aren’t cancer, but you need to see your doctor to find out.

How Do I Do a Breast Self-Exam?

If you choose to do one, follow these steps:

In the mirror:

  1. Stand undressed from the waist up in front of a large mirror in a well-lit room. Look at your breasts. If they aren’t equal in size or shape, that’s OK!  Most women's breasts aren't. With your arms relaxed by your sides, look for any changes in size, shape, or position, or any breast skin changes. Look for any puckering, dimpling, sores, or discoloration.
  2. Check your nipples and look for any sores, peeling, or change in their direction.
  3. Place your hands on your hips and press down firmly to tighten the chest muscles beneath your breasts. Turn from side to side so you can look at the outer part of your breasts.
  4. Then bend forward toward the mirror. Roll your shoulders and elbows forward to tighten your chest muscles. Your breasts will fall forward. Look for any changes in their shape or contour.
  5. Now, clasp your hands behind your head and press your hands forward. Again, turn from side to side to inspect your breasts' outer portions. Remember to look at the border underneath them. You may need to lift your breasts with your hand to see it.
  6. Check your nipples for discharge fluid. Place your thumb and forefinger on the tissue surrounding the nipple and pull outward toward the end of the nipple. Look for any discharge. Repeat on your other breast.

Continued

In the shower:

  1. Feel for changes in the breast. It helps to have your hands slippery with soap and water. Check for any lumps or thickening in your underarm area. Place your left hand on your hip and reach with your right hand to feel in the left armpit. Repeat on the other side.
  2. Check both sides for lumps or thickenings above and below your collarbone.
  3. With hands soapy, raise one arm behind your head to spread out the breast tissue. Use the flat part of your fingers from the other hand to press gently into the breast. Follow an up-and-down pattern, moving from bra line to collarbone. Continue the pattern until you have covered the entire breast. Repeat on the other side.

Lying down:

  1. Lie down and place a small pillow or folded towel under your right shoulder. Put your right hand behind your head. Place your left hand on the upper portion of your right breast with fingers together and flat. Body lotion may help to make this easier.
  2. Think of your breast as a face on a clock. Start at 12 o'clock and move toward 1 o'clock in small circular motions. Continue around the entire circle until you reach 12 o'clock again. Keep your fingers flat and in constant contact with your breast. When the circle is complete, move in 1 inch toward the nipple and complete another circle around the clock. Continue in this pattern until you've felt the entire breast. Make sure to feel the upper outer areas that extend into your armpit.
  3. Place your fingers flat and directly on top of your nipple. Feel beneath the nipple for any changes. Gently press your nipple inward. It should move easily.
  4. Repeat these steps on your other breast. Don’t forget to check the upper, outer area of the breast, nearest to the armpit.

What Should I Do if I Find a Lump?

Don’t panic. It could be many things other than cancer. But do check in with your doctor’s office if you notice any new breast changes, such as:

  • An area that is different from any other area on either breast
  • A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm that lasts through your menstrual cycle
  • A change in the size, shape, or contour of the breast
  • A mass or lump
  • A marble-like area under the skin
  • A change in the feel or appearance of the skin on the breast or nipple (dimpled, puckered, scaly, or inflamed)
  • Bloody or clear fluid discharge from the nipples
  • Redness of the skin on the breast or nipple
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on July 08, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

American Cancer Society.

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

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