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Breast Self-Examination

How It Feels

A breast self-examination (BSE) normally does not cause any discomfort. If your breasts are tender because your menstrual period is about to begin, a BSE may cause slight discomfort when you press on your breasts to feel for lumps.


The risk of doing breast self-examination is that you find a breast change that makes you anxious and may lead to unnecessary tests (such as a biopsy) but that turns out not to be cancer.


A breast self-examination (BSE) involves checking your breasts to help detect breast problems or changes.

Breast self-examination (BSE)


It is important to know what your breasts normally look like and feel like so you can identify any changes as soon as possible. One breast is usually slightly larger than the other. You may find a ridge of firm tissue in the lower curve of the breast below the nipple. This is normal. You may also notice that your breasts change throughout your menstrual cycle, and you may notice increased swelling and tenderness before your period starts.

Both breasts have a similar consistency and there are no new lumps since your last self-examination. You may have breasts that feel lumpy throughout. If both breasts feel this way, this is normal for you.

You may be able to express a clear or milky discharge from your nipple. This may be due to nursing, breast stimulation, hormones, or some other normal cause.

If you have small breasts, you may feel your rib as a firm mass through your breast tissue. If you follow the curve of firm tissue, you will be able to tell it's your rib and not a mass.



Abnormal changes are those that are unusual for you. The color or feel of your breast or nipple may change. This can include wrinkling, dimpling, thickening, or puckering or an area that feels thickened.

A nipple which previously pointed out now points in (inverted). A red, scaly rash or sore may be found on the nipple. Nipple discharge is green or bloody.

A new lump can be felt in breast tissue. Most lumps are pea-sized. If you find a lump, don't panic; 8 out of 10 lumps are not cancerous. A lump is most often caused by a cyst, a fibroadenoma, or generalized breast lumpiness (fibrocystic breast changes), none of which are cancerous.

If you find a lump or other unusual change, make an appointment with your doctor to have it checked. Be prepared to describe whether the lump is hard or soft and whether it moves easily under the skin. If your doctor does a clinical breast examination (CBE), he or she may recommend that you watch for changes and reexamine the breast in several weeks, sometimes waiting until after your next menstrual cycle. More testing, such as a mammogram, a breast biopsy, or an attempt to remove fluid from inside (aspirate) the lump, may also be done. The lump is a cyst if the fluid inside is not bloody and if the lump disappears after aspiration.

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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