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A woman can use a breast self-exam to check for changes, lumps, or thickenings, in her breasts. Any unusual changes should be reported to the doctor. A breast self-exam is one way to detect lumps that may be cancerous. Early detection and treatment of breast cancer greatly increases the likelihood for survival.
If you choose to do breast self-exams, your doctor can help show you the best technique. Many women find it convenient to do the exam while bathing or showering. The best time to do the exam is 3 to 5 days after the start of the menstrual period, since the breasts are not as tender or lumpy at this time of the cycle. Women who no longer have menstrual periods should do the exam about the same time each month.
Part of a breast self-exam involves examination of the appearance of the breasts in a mirror. For this step, it is best to stand in front of a mirror and examine your breasts in different positions: with your arms relaxed by your side, with your hands pressed down on your hips, leaning forward with chest muscles tightened, and with hands behind the head and chest muscles tightened. Turning from side to side may be helpful to view all angles. Look for any changes like sores on the skin, dimpling or puckering of the skin, or changes in skin color. Look for discharge or changes in the skin of the nipple areas, as well. Don’t forget to examine the skin underneath the breasts.
Next, use the flat part of the fingers to feel your breasts, following an up and down or circular motion until you have examined all breast tissue from collarbone to the lower border of the breasts. Examine the armpit areas too since these may contain breast tissue. Look for lumps or irregularities in density or any changes since your last exam. Feel beneath the nipple for any changes. It’s best to do this both standing (with your hand on your hip; use the opposite hand to do the exam) and while lying down.
What if I find a lump or abnormality on my breast self-exam?
See your doctor if you find any abnormality or unexplained change in your breasts. Most breast lumps are benign (non-cancerous), but it is important to have your doctor evaluate any changes you observe during the breast self-exam.