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A Guide to Breast Self-Examination

A Guide to Breast Self-Examination

Being familiar with our bodies helps us detect sudden changes. And one effective way women can monitor their overall health is by knowing the best breast self-examination tips.
Most breast changes detected during a self-exam for breast awareness have benign causes, some changes may signal something serious, such as breast cancer.

Breast cancer cannot be prevented but early detection is a way to minimize risks. One thing you can do is a breast self-examination following these breast self-examination tips.

Early breast cancer detection and treatment remain the most important preventive measures against breast cancer deaths.

It’s important to note that routine breast self-examinations are not recognized by most medical institutions or organizations as part of breast cancer screening. This is because there is no proof that self-examination can detect breast cancer.

But it can help determine any changes in the breast. So it’s best to consult a health care provider right away.

What is a breast self-examination?

A breast self-examination (BSE) is a check-up a woman can do to examine her breast tissue for any physical or visual changes. This can be done at home.

From the age of 18, women are encouraged to self-check at least once a month. This is one of the most important breast self-examination tips – knowing when to do it.

Breast cancer begins with the formation of a small, localized tumor. If you find a lump, see a doctor for further evaluation. About 80% of lumps found will not be cancerous.

The optimal time to conduct a self-examination is three to five days after your monthly period. Your breasts are not as swollen, lumpy, and sensitive to pain during this time. If you are pregnant or menopausal, designate a specific day each month to do it.

More About Breast Cancer Self Exams and Lab Tests

How do you perform a breast self-examination?

Here are some breast self-examination tips.

Breasts are not usually symmetrical and vary in size. The key is to look out for changes and developing symptoms. A typical self-check can be divided into two: look and touch.

Breast Self-examination Tips: Look

  • Strip down so you can see your upper body.
  • Choose a well-lit room to check yourself out in front of a mirror.
  • Inspect your breasts with your arms relaxed by your sides.
  • Compare one to the other.
  • While it is normal for them to vary in size or shape, sudden changes should not occur.
  • Look out for any dimpling, bulging of the skin, sores, or discoloration.
  • Take note of changes in the position of nipples. It may look pushed inward instead of sticking out.
  • Notice if there is an increase in noticeable vein patterns in one breast.
  • Place your hands on the hips and press firmly to tighten the muscles beneath your breasts.
  • Repeat the first step.
  • Examine from left to right to check the outer portions.
  • With hands still on the hips, hunch forward.
  • Check if there are changes in shape and contours as your breasts fall forward.
  • Clasp your hands together and raise your hands overhead. Turn from side to side to inspect the surrounding area.
  • If your breasts are on the larger side, you may need to lift them up to check underneath.
  • Check if there is discharge coming out of your nipples. This could be a watery, milky fluid or blood.
  • Place your thumb and forefinger on the tissue surrounding the nipple and push outward.
  • Repeat motion on the other breast.

Breast Self-Examination Tips Part Two: Touch

  • Begin by lying flat on your back.
  • You will be able to spot lumps easily since your breast tissues spread evenly.
  • Use your right hand to feel your left breast and vice-versa.
  • Place a pillow behind your shoulder or back to be comfortable.
  • Starting on your right breast, use the flat pads of your three middle fingers to touch your breast.
  • Move your fingers in small, circular motions.
  • For each circle, increase pressure so you can feel all levels of breast tissue.
  • Repeat motion until you have covered the entirety of your breasts from top to bottom and side to side.
  • This includes applying pressure from the collarbones to abdomen and from the armpit to your cleavage.
  • Repeat all three steps on your left breast.
  • It helps if you follow a pattern like an up-and-down approach where your fingers move vertically, in rows.
  • Use light pressure for the skin and tissue beneath.
  • For the middle tissue, a medium amount of pressure is ideal.
  • Lastly, use firm pressure for the deep tissue at the back.

Additional breast self-examination tips: Some women find it easier to self-examine when their skin is wet or damp. Repeat the same hand movements listed above when in a shower.

Conduct your self-checks after your period so your breasts will not be as sensitive and swollen. During the examination, make sure to cover all areas and not just the main breast. Check for lumps in the surrounding areas like armpits and upper abdomen. Follow these breast self-examination tips to gain greater confidence and to better know your body.

If you detect anything unusual, don’t panic.

If you find a lump, do not panic. But do not rely on self-checks alone. If there are unusual changes, set an appointment with your doctor immediately.

You may need to undergo an ultrasound or mammogram for an accurate diagnosis.

Conducting a breast self-examination following these breast self-examination tips is an effective tool to detect cancer or other conditions early on. An early diagnosis means more chances of reducing the risks.

Familiarize yourself with how your breasts look and feel. By doing so, you will be able to tell immediately if there are unusual changes that require medical attention.

Learn more about Other Women’s Health Issues here.

Ovulation Calculator

Ovulation Calculator

Tracking your period cycle, determines your most fertile days and increases your chance of conceiving or applying for birth control.

Ovulation Calculator

Tracking your period cycle, determines your most fertile days and increases your chance of conceiving or applying for birth control.

Ovulation Calculator

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Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Breast Self-Exam https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001993.htm Accessed 2 June 2020

Breast Self-Exam https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/testing/types/self_exam Accessed 2 June 2020

Frequently Asked Questions About the American Cancer Society’s Breast Cancer Screening Guideline https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/frequently-asked-questions-about-the-american-cancer-society-new-breast-cancer-screening-guideline.html Accessed 2 June 2020

Breast self-exam for Breast Awareness https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/breast-exam/about/pac-20393237 Accessed 2 June 2020

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Written by Honey Buenaventura Updated Jun 03
Fact Checked by Hello Doctor Medical Panel