Breast Self-Exam: A Step-by-Step Guide

Checking our breasts regularly (known as breast self-examination or BSE) is a valuable practice for detecting breast cancer early and significantly enhances our chances of successful treatment. While no single screening method can catch all cancers in their early stages, many suggest that combining breast self-exams with other screening methods can improve the likelihood of early detection. Collaborating insights from trusted sources including the National Breast Cancer Foundation and, following is a comprehensive guide to help us perform a thorough breast self-exam.

Understanding Breast Self-Examination

A breast self-exam utilizes visual and physical examinations of the breasts to identify signs or symptoms of breast cancer. The primary objective of this practice is to foster self-awareness, enabling individuals to recognize any deviations from their breasts' normal appearance and texture. It's important to understand that while BSE is valuable, it should complement regular mammograms and clinical breast exams, and not replace them.

How Often Should We Perform a Breast Self-Exam?

Adult women of all ages are encouraged to conduct BSE at least once a month. The timing may vary depending on our menstrual cycle. For menstruating individuals, it's advisable to perform the exam a few days after the period ends. Post-menopausal individuals should stick to a specific date each month, such as the 1st or 15th. Initiatives like Feel It on the First champion the importance of monthly self-exams, empowering us to check ourselves on the first day of every month. Regularity is key in establishing a routine that enhances early detection.

How to Perform a Breast Self-Exam

Step 1: Examine Breasts in a Mirror 

Begin the examination by looking at our breasts in the mirror with our shoulders straight and our arms on our hips. Scan each breast for:

  • Breasts that are their usual size, shape and color
  • Evenly shaped breasts without visible distortion or swelling
  • Any changes such as dimpling, puckering or bulging of the skin
  • Nipple changes in position or inversion
  • Redness, soreness, rash or swelling

Step 2: Raise Arms & Examine Breasts

Raise our arms and continue observing for the same changes in appearance.

Step 3: Look for Signs of Breast Fluid

While at the mirror, inspect for any signs of fluid discharge from one or both nipples. This could be watery, milky, yellow fluid or blood.

Step 4: Feel for Breast Lumps While Lying Down

Lie down and use our right hand to feel our left breast, and vice versa. Use a firm, smooth touch with the first few finger pads of our hand, keeping them flat and together. Cover the entire breast in circular motions, ensuring to examine from top to bottom, side to side and from the collarbone to the abdomen. Follow a pattern to cover the entire breast thoroughly, varying pressure from light to firm as we move through different tissue layers.

Step 5: Feel Your Breasts for Lumps While Standing or Sitting

Conduct the same examination while standing or sitting. Many find it easier to feel their breasts when the skin is wet and slippery, making the shower an ideal setting for this step. Utilize the same hand movements described earlier, ensuring to cover the entire breast surface. 

Take Action

Regular breast self-examination is a proactive step towards maintaining breast health. By familiarizing ourselves with our breasts' normal appearance and texture, we become better equipped to detect any changes promptly. Remember, early detection is key in the fight against breast cancer.

By following this step-by-step guide and remaining vigilant for any changes, we can play an active role in safeguarding our breast health and overall well-being. Together, let's empower ourselves and others to prioritize our health and take proactive steps towards early detection and prevention.