A guide to performing routine breast checks at home.
The key to staying healthy is knowing your body.
Research shows that regular breast self-exams, clinical breast exams and mammograms play important roles in the early detection of breast cancer.
Breast self-exams make you aware of how your breasts normally look and feel. That way, you can let your healthcare provider know if you notice any changes such as a new lump, redness, or swelling.
Beginning at around age 20, women are encouraged to do breast self-exams on a monthly basis. Self-exams should take place at the same time each month to maintain consistency, and the best time to do them is at the end of your menstrual cycle when your breasts are less tender and swollen. If your menstrual cycle is irregular or you no longer have periods you can choose a date that is easy to remember, such as the first of the month on which to perform your exam.
If you see or feel any unusual changes to your breasts, it’s important to communicate that information to your primary care doctor or OB/GYN. Your healthcare provider may order further evaluation, such as a breast ultrasound or breast MRI. Try not to jump to conclusions if additional studies are recommended, since not all changes indicate cancer.
Remember, monthly breast self-exams are different from clinical breast exams (CBE), which are done by your doctor or other healthcare provider. Self-exams don’t replace clinical breast exams, they are simply another identifying tool in the early detection of breast cancer.
“Performing self-breast exams, getting yearly clinical breast exams, and making sure to have your recommended annual breast screening mammogram are all important aspects in creating a healthy lifestyle.”
Michael Forino, M.D.
Medical Director, Women’s Imaging Center
Breast Self-Exam How-To
There are two ways to do a breast self-exam at home: Using a mirror or lying down. Follow these easy steps to perform your check, use the worksheet below to take notes, then show your healthcare provider your technique to make sure you’re doing it right.
USING A MIRROR
1. While standing in front of a mirror, visually examine your breasts with your arms relaxed at your sides.
2. After you’ve looked at your breasts with your arms at your sides, go ahead and raise your arms high over your head. While your arms are raised, look for any changes in the shape of your breasts. Take notice of any swelling, dimpling of the skin, or changes in the appearance of your nipples.
3. Next, rest your palms on your hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles. Look for any dimpling, swelling, redness, unusual texture of your nipple, or changes in the size, shape or contour of the breast, particularly if it’s on a single side. Don’t worry if your left and right breasts do not exactly match, few women’s breasts actually do. Don’t forget to use the worksheet below to take notes.
1. Lie down on your back, place a pillow under your right shoulder and place your right arm behind your head. Lying down allows the breast tissue to spread out evenly along the chest making the tissue as thin as possible so you can better feel all of the breast tissue below.
2. Using your left hand, walk your three middle fingers up and down your right breast in a straight line, covering the entire breast area and armpit. Make sure to use light, medium, and firm pressure. Using light pressure allows you to feel the tissue closest to the skin. Applying medium pressure lets you feel the tissue that lies between the surface tissue and the deepest tissue. Firm pressure helps you feel the tissue closest to the chest and ribs.
3. Repeat these same steps for your left breast and take notes using the worksheet below.