Breast self exams should be a regular part of your self-care routine.
Step 1: Visual examination
Stand in front of a mirror with your shoulders even and your hands on your hips. This angle lets you see if there are any changes in the overall appearance of your breasts. When you do self-exams regularly, you’ll get to know what’s normal for your breasts, and you’ll notice if there are changes.
Then raise your arms and look again. This gives you a different angle.
Some things you should report to your doctor:
- dimpling or puckering of the skin
- change in the nipple (such as a nipple that goes in instead of out)
- fluid coming out of a nipple
Step 2: Lie down and check your breasts
Use your right hand to check your left breast and your left hand to check your right breast. With the pads of your fingers, feel the entire breast from the armpit to your cleavage, and from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen.
It’s easier to do a complete breast self-exam if you follow a pattern. Some women like to use up and down motions, like vacuuming a floor or mowing a lawn. Others prefer to move their hands around their breasts in a spiral motion from the nipple to the outside of the breast. You can also think of your breasts in wedge, moving from the outside to the inside.
The object here is to make sure you cover all the breast tissue.
Step 3: Check breasts standing or sitting
Sit or stand up and use the same procedure as in Step 2 to check your breasts in an upright position. You may prefer to do this in the shower.
If you notice changes or lumps, mention them to your doctor. Most lumps in the breasts are nothing to worry about, but the goal of breast self exams is to catch any sign of breast cancer early.
See the process in pictures.
Monthly breast self exams
Breast self exams should be a monthly ritual. Choose a day several days after your period, when your breasts are least likely to be tender. If you no longer have periods, choose a day that’s easy to remember, like the first day of the month, and add it to your calendar.
Keep track of your results, especially when you first begin doing breast self exams. As you get to know your breasts better, your self exams will be a useful addition to clinical breast exams by your doctor and routine mammograms.