Breast Self-Exam

By taking time every month to do a breast self-exam, a woman could save her own life by detecting breast cancer early when it is most curable.

WHY SHOULD A WOMAN EXAMINE HER BREASTS MONTHLY?
Most breast cancers are first discovered by women themselves. Because breast cancer that is found early and treated right away has the best chance for being cured, performing a breast self-exam monthly can help save a woman’s life.

HOW IS A BREAST SELF-EXAM PERFORMED?
A woman should examine her breasts three ways; in the shower, in front of a mirror, and lying down.

In the shower:
A woman should examine her breasts during a bath or shower because hands glide easily over wet skin. With fingers flat, the woman will move gently over every part of her breast. She will use her right hand to examine her left breast and her left hand to examine her right breast. As she runs her fingers over her breast she should check for any lump, hard knot or thickening.

In front of a mirror:
Standing in front of a mirror, a woman will inspect her breasts with arms at her sides. Next, she will raise her arms high, over her head. At this point she should look for any changes in the contour of each breast such as swelling, dimpling of skin or changes in the nipple. Next, she will rest her palms on her hips and press down firmly to flex her chest muscles. She should not be alarmed if the left and right breasts do not match – few women’s breasts do. By performing this regular inspection, the woman will get a feel for what is normal for her and will have more confidence in her examination.

Lying down:
To examine the right breast, a woman should place a pillow or towel under her right shoulder. She will place her right hand behind her head to help distribute the breast tissue more evenly. With her left hand, fingers flat, she will press gently in small circular motions around an imaginary clock face. Picturing a clock, she will begin at the outermost top of her right breast at 12 o’clock, then move to 1 and so on, around the circle back to 12. It is normal to feel a ridge of firm tissue in the lower curve of each breast. After she has completed the circle, she will move in an inch, toward the nipple and keep circling until the entire breast, including the nipple, has been examined. When this is complete, she will move the pillow or towel under her left shoulder and repeat the exam on her left breast. Finally, she should squeeze the nipple of each breast gently between the thumb and index finger. Any discharge, clear or bloody, should be reported to a doctor immediately.

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME FOR A WOMAN TO EXAMINE HER BREASTS?
The best time for a woman to examine her breasts is once a month, about a week after her period when breasts are not usually tender or swollen. If a woman has already gone through menopause, she should check breasts on the first day of each month. If a woman is age 20-40 she should have a physician examine her breasts every three years and every year after 40.

WHAT SHOULD A WOMAN DO IF SHE FINDS A LUMP OR THICKENING?
If a woman finds a lump, thickening, dimple or discharge during her exam she should see her health care provider as soon as possible. However, she should not be frightened – most breast lumps or changes are not cancer. Only a doctor can make the diagnosis, so it is a good idea to seek health care right away.