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Breast Self-Examination

A breast self-examination (BSE) involves checking your breasts to help detect breast problems or changes. Many breast problems are first discovered by women themselves, often by accident. Breast lumps can be noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant). Breast cancer can occur at any age, though it is most common in women older than 50.

Many experts believe that the harms of breast self-examination outweigh the benefits. Others consider BSE an option for women. Talk with your doctor about breast self-examination.

A breast self-examination involves checking your breasts for lumps or changes while standing and lying in different positions and while looking at your breasts in a mirror to note any changes in their appearance. Once you know what your breasts normally look and feel like, any new lump or change in appearance should be evaluated by a doctor. Most breast problems or changes are not because of cancer.

If you choose to do breast self-examinations, this should not replace regular clinical breast examinations (CBE) by a doctor and mammograms. Breast implants do not decrease a woman's risk for breast cancer, so women with breast implants need to talk with their doctors about performing breast self-examinations.

Why It Is Done

A breast self-examination is done to detect breast problems, such as a lump or change in appearance, that may indicate breast cancer or other breast conditions that may require medical attention (such as mastitis or a fibroadenoma).

How To Prepare

No special preparation is needed before having this test.

How It Is Done

It takes practice to perform a thorough breast self-examination. Ask your doctor for tips that can help you perform a breast self-examination correctly.

The best time to examine your breasts is usually one week after your menstrual period begins, when your breast tissue is least likely to be swollen or tender. If your menstrual cycle is irregular, or if you have stopped menstruating due to menopause or the removal of your uterus (hysterectomy), do your examination on a day of the month that's easy to remember. Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding can continue to examine their breasts every month. Breast-feeding mothers can examine their breasts after a feeding or after using a breast pump so that the breasts have as little milk as possible, making the examination easier and more comfortable.

To do a breast self-examination, remove all your clothes above the waist and lie down. The examination is done while lying down so your breast tissue spreads evenly over your chest wall and is as thin as possible, making it much easier to feel all your breast tissue.

Use the pads of the three middle fingers of your left hand-not your fingertips-to check your right breast. Move your fingers slowly in small coin-sized circles.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 03, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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