Breast Self-Examination

The breast self exam should be an important part of a woman's life. Done once a month, it can drastically reduce the chances of having a life threatening tumor. The reason is early detection, and with early detection of breast cancer, comes the better the chance for a complete cure. 

The following instructions will help you perform a monthly Breast Self Exam. It is also recommended to see your doctor or nurse practitioner yearly for a breast examination as well as a periodic mammogram after age 35.

How to Examine your Breast 

  • Stand in front of a mirror with your arms at your side. Examine your breasts for any changes in shape or size, dimpling or puckering of the skin, changes in the appearance of the nipple.
  • Gently squeeze each nipple to check for any discharge.
  • Next, lie down on a firm surface with a pillow under the shoulder of the breast you wish to examine. For this example we will use the left side. Place your left hand under your head.
  • Try to visualize your breast divided into four quadrants.
  • With your hand flat and your fingers together, press firmly using light pressure on the upper inner quadrant of your breast in a small circular motion. Move from the outside toward the center and repeat the step using moderate and deep pressure to feel all layers of the breast.
  • Repeat this procedure for the lower inner quadrant of the left breast. This time start at the nipple and work outward. Remember to use light, moderate and deep pressure.
  • Next, while still lying on your back, place your left arm at your side. Examine the upper outer quadrant of the left breast by doing the same as you did in step 5, but starting at the nipple and working outward.
  • Repeat this same procedure for the lower outer quadrant.
  • Also, feel underneath your armpit for any lumps of swelling.
  • Repeat steps 3 through 9 on the right breast.

During the examination process, you may feel perfectly smooth tissue or you may feel some lumps. Not all lumps that you may feel are cancerous. These lumps are probably your mammary glands and ducts or possibly a harmless cyst. If you imagine that you are feeling a bag filled with oatmeal, and that the oatmeal is lumpy, this might resemble what you would normally feel. If, while you are examining your breasts, you feel something that feels like a dried/hard bean or pea or even something smaller, report the finding to your doctor.

As you examine your breasts each month, you will begin to learn what feels normal for your breast. It often helps to keep a diagram of what you feel. That way you can keep track of what is normal and what feels abnormal. If you suspect you feel a lump that is abnormal or is unlike something you had felt before, it is best to see your doctor for further follow up.