Breast Self-Examination - Topic Overview
What is a breast self-exam?
self-exam involves checking your breasts for
lumps or changes. Many breast problems are first discovered by women
themselves, often by accident. Breast lumps can be noncancerous (benign) or
Breast cancer can occur at any age, though it is most
common in women older than 50. Lumps or changes also may be signs of other breast conditions, such as
mastitis or a
Medical experts don't recommend regular breast self-examinations.1 Studies show that self-exams don't save women's lives and that they can lead to unneeded tests, such as biopsies. But some experts believe that women should know how their breasts look and feel (breast self-awareness) so any breast changes can be reported to a doctor.2
How do you perform a breast self-exam?
The best time to
examine your breasts is usually 1 week after your menstrual period starts,
when your breasts are least likely to be swollen or tender. Examining your breasts at other times in your menstrual cycle may make it hard to compare
results of one exam with another.
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.
If you are breast-feeding, try doing your breast exams after a feeding or after using a breast pump. The
breasts should have as little milk as possible, so the exam will be easier and more
A breast self-exam normally doesn't cause any discomfort. If your breasts are tender because your menstrual
period is about to begin, you may feel slight discomfort when you press on
To do a breast self-exam:
- Remove all your
clothes above the waist. Lie down. Lying down spreads your breasts evenly over your chest and makes it easier to feel lumps or changes. Check your entire breast by feeling all of
the tissue from the collarbone to the bottom of the bra line and from the armpit to the
- Use the pads of your three middle fingers—not your fingertips. Use the middle fingers of your left hand to check your right breast. Use the middle fingers of your right hand to check your left breast. You can use
an up-and-down pattern or a spiral pattern . Move your fingers slowly in small
- Use three different levels of pressure to
feel all of your breast tissue. Light pressure is needed to feel the tissue
close to the skin surface. Medium pressure is used to feel a little deeper, and
firm pressure is used to feel your tissue close to your breastbone and ribs. Avoid lifting your fingers away from the
skin as you feel for lumps, unusual thicknesses, or changes of any kind.