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Breast Self-Exam

A breast self-exam is an important tool in the early detection of breast cancer. Women should examine their breasts regularly, not only to check for abnormalities, but also to gain understanding of how their breasts should normally feel. When you are familiar with your breasts, you will be more likely to detect a change in them.

Keep in mind that your breasts are complex organs that change throughout the month with the levels of hormones in your body. Therefore, they may feel differently at different points in your menstrual cycle, and you should try to perform your breast self-exams at the same time each month. That's why you need to examine your breasts at a time when they are not tender or filled with fluid. This time varies depending on the stage of your life.

For menstruating women, the last day of your cycle is ideal and gives you a physical reminder each month to perform your exam. Women who are past menopause or who are pregnant should examine their breasts on the same day each month. If you take hormone replacement that cycles off the medicine for a few days, perform your exam the day you resume your medication. Breastfeeding mothers should check each breast when the milk has been expressed.

Step 1: Lying Down

  • Lie down on your back and place a small pillow beneath your right shoulder.
  • Using the tips of the three middle fingers on your left hand, examine your right breast in circular motions.
  • Pressure should range from light to deep and follow an up-and-down pattern.
  • Examine the areas above and around your breasts, in your armpit area, and around your collarbone.
  • Repeat these steps on your left breast.

Step 2: In Front of Your Mirror

While standing, check for visual changes in your breasts, such as skin puckering, changes in color or texture, bulges, changes in vein patterns, or retraction of the skin or nipple. You should examine your breasts in the mirror in four different positions:

  • Arms at your side
  • Arms over your head
  • Your hands on your hips
  • Bent forward with your hands on your hips