Self-Breast Exams And How To Perform Them

A self-breast exam, or the act of regularly examining your breasts on your own, can be a very effective method of diagnosing breast cancer in its early stages when it’s more likely to be treated successfully. No single test has a 100% success rate when it comes to diagnosing breast cancer. However, performing breast self-exams in combination with screenings from your physician such as mammograms can increase the odds of catching the cancer cells before they spread.

How Often Should Self-Breast Exams Be Done?

Adult women are encouraged to perform breast self-exams at least once a month. Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important. Although mammograms can detect cancer before you are physically able to feel a lump, self-exams will allow you to become familiar with how your breasts look and feel, and you should alert your health care professional if there are any changes.

Where Should You Perform Self-Exams?

In Front of a Mirror
With your arms at your sides, visually inspect your breasts. Next, raise your arms high overhead and look for any changes in contour, any swelling, or changes in the nipples. The left and right breasts will not exactly match, so look for changes, particularly on one side.

In the Shower
Using only the pads of your fingers, move in a circular pattern moving from the outside to the center, covering your entire breast and armpit. Check both breasts each month feeling for any lump, thickening, or hardened knot.

Lying Down
When in a horizontal position, the breast tissue is able to spread out evenly along the chest wall. While in this position, put a pillow under your right shoulder, while simultaneously placing your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand, use the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently in small circular motions. Use light, medium, and firm pressure.

Can You Rely On Self-Exams Alone?

Mammography is the most reliable method of detecting tumors before they can be felt. But in order to be certain of the diagnosis, regular mammograms must be paired with physician examinations and self-breast exams.

What If You Find A Lump?

Do not panic if you feel a lump in your breast. Most breast lumps turn out to be benign (not cancerous). Don’t hesitate to call your doctor and make an appointment for an exam if you’ve noticed any changes in your breasts that are worrisome. The best healthcare provider to call would be one who knows you and has done a breast exam on you before, such as your gynecologist, primary care doctor, or a nurse practitioner. Do not be afraid to ask questions or consult your doctor about any health concerns. It’s important that your doctor gives you an explanation of the cause of the lump.

Breast cancer affects thousands of women each year and continues to have one of the highest mortality rates. Taking the time to exam your breasts regularly and schedule mammograms 1-2 times each year if you are over the age of 40 will go a long way in ensuring your long-term health. Do yourself and your breasts a favor this October and make an appointment to get a mammogram and talk to your doctor about your risks of breast cancer. For more health and safety information, visit