How to give yourself a breast exam

A step-by-step approach

Andrea Markowitz, Ph.D.

HealthKey contributor

October 5, 2009


According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), women should begin giving themselves breast self-exams (BSEs) in their 20s. Getting to know how your breasts normally look and feel will help you detect subtle changes (if they occur) that could signal breast cancer.

The following BSE tips are recommended by the ACS. These tips apply to women with breast implants and pregnant women, too.

Self-Exam 1: Lying Down

1. Choose a day of the month when your breasts are not tender or swollen.

2. Lie down (so your breast tissue spreads evenly over your chest wall and is as thin as possible). Place your right arm behind your head.

3. Feel for lumps in the right breast by making overlapping, coin-sized circular motions with the pads of your three middle fingers on your left hand.

4. Use three different pressure levels, one at a time: light pressure to feel the tissue closest to the skin; medium pressure to feel a little deeper; and firm pressure to feel the tissue closest to the chest and ribs.

5. Cover the entire breast by moving in an up-and-down pattern that starts at your side from the underarm and across the breast to the middle of the chest and bone.

6. Use the finger pads on your right hand to repeat these steps on your left breast.

7. Then stand in front of a mirror with your hands pressing down firmly on your hips and observe whether there are any changes in size, shape, contour, or dimpling, redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin.

8. Raise each arm slightly to examine each underarm for lumps.

Self-Exam 2: Standing Up

1. Look at your breasts in the mirror, shoulders straight and your arms on your hips. Look for changes in your breasts: dimpling, puckering, or bulging of the skin; a nipple that looks different (possibly inverted); redness, soreness, rash, or swelling; fluid draining from the nipples.

2. Raise your arms and look for the same changes.

3. Follow steps three through eight of the lying down exam.

For more information visit the American Cancer Society Web site at www.cancer.org and Breastcancer.org and www.breastcancer.org.

Remember to schedule you mammogram. Go to the American College of Radiology Web site to find an accredited facility near you: http://www.acr.org/accreditation/AccreditedFacilitySearch.aspx.

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