How to do a breast self-exam
October marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month! Its goals are to raise awareness of breast cancer and raise funds for research to learn more about causes, prevention, and cures. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, learn how to do a breast self-exam and why it’s so important.
Early detection is key
It’s essential to examine your breasts regularly to locate any potential abnormalities, such as unusual lumps or bumps. Why? Because, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, it’s estimated that up to 40 percent of diagnosed breast cancers are identified by women during routine breast self-exams. And since mammograms aren't recommended for woman under the age of 40, this makes breast self-exams even more critical. Many doctors highly encourage women to examine their breasts regularly beginning at age 20.
Take control of your health by examining your breasts every month to ensure there are no concerning symptoms that need a follow-up.
Breast self-exams are as easy as 1-2-3-4
If you’ve never done a breast self-exam before, don’t worry— it’s easy and only involves four simple steps. You should do a breast self-exam the week following when your period starts since that’s when breast tissue is less likely to be swollen or tender. Be consistent about when during your cycle you conduct a breast self-exam so that you can reliably compare the results of one exam with another.
The first step is to stand in front of a full-length mirror. You should be topless with your shoulders straight and your arms down at your sides. Then view each breast in the mirror and also look directly down at them. Examine your breasts for unusual swelling, redness, puckering, or dimpling. If you notice any of these signs, then schedule an appointment with your medical provider as soon as possible to follow up.
The next step involves raising your arms over your head and then examining your breasts both in the mirror and by looking directly down at them. Again, look for any unusual swelling, redness, puckering, or dimpling of the skin.
For step three, you should gently squeeze each nipple, making sure no fluid or blood comes out. If you notice any unusual fluid or blood, schedule an appointment with your medical provider to follow up.
The last step is checking your breasts for any unusual lumps, bulges, or bumps. Use a firm touch, and start at the nipple. Then move in larger and larger circles until you reach your cleavage and chest. You’ll also want to check under your underarms for any unusual lumps or bumps as well.
Once again, if you notice anything unusual, including changes in size and shape, texture, pain or tenderness, lumps and bumps, discharge, or thickening of the breast, you should schedule an appointment with your medical provider right away. For more information on how to do a breast self-exam and about breast cancer symptoms, visit the National Breast Cancer Foundation's website.
- “34 Things Your Breasts Say About Your Health,” Cosmopolitan, September 28, 2015.
- “How to Check Yourself for Symptoms of Breast Cancer,” Elle, July 13, 2016.
- “The One Thing You Must Do for Your Breasts,” Cosmopolitan, November 18, 2009.