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The Self Breast Exam

Regular self breast exams (SBE) allow you to become familiar with how your breasts normally look and feel and can help you more readily detect any changes that may occur. Many women naturally have some lumpiness and asymmetry (differences between the right and left breast). The key to the breast self-exam is to learn how to find changes in the breasts that persist over time.

While most women are aware of monthly breast self-examination, many still do not know how to perform it properly. This section will help guide you through the basics.

Breast self-exams should be performed once each month beginning at age twenty and continue monthly through a woman's lifetime. The Best Time to Perform Self Breast Examination
Menstruating women: Hormonal changes due to the menstrual cycle may make the breasts more lumpy or swollen. Women who are menstruating should perform breast self-exam from 7-10 days after the first day of your menses, when breasts are usually less tender or swollen.

Women who are no longer menstruating: should do their BSE on the same day every month. Try to pick a day that is easy to remember, such as the first or fifteenth of every month, and make that the day each month for breast self-exam.

Breast Changes and Warning Signs To Watch for During Self Breast Exam:

  • Any new lump or thickening found in the breast or armpit
  • Any change in the size or shape of either breast
  • Any dimpling, puckering or indention in the breast
  • Itchy, scaly sore or rash around the nipple which keeps coming back
  • Nipple discharge (fluid coming from your nipples), particularly if the discharge is bloody or dark and occurs without squeezing
  • Nipple retraction: turning or drawing inward or pointing in a new direction
  • Sudden onset of a red, hot, swollen breast

The breasts are typically mirror images of each other.  If a vague thickening or lump is felt in one breast, women should feel for it in the other breast. If the area is found in both breasts, it is probably normal breast anatomy.
If you notice any of these changes, you should contact your physician as soon as possible for clinical evaluation.

Your Monthly Self Breast Exam

Your monthly self breast exam includes both looking and feeling over the entire breast and chest area. You should use the pads, not the tips, of the three middle fingers.
It is important to thoroughly examine the entire area of the breast every month:

  • Outside: armpit to collar bone, and below the breast
  • Middle: the breast itself
  • Inside: the nipple area

Self Breast Exam Technique

There are three different patterns you can use when examining your breasts each month:

Self Breast Exam Technique

  1. Vertical or "up and down" pattern (or "squares") covering the entire breast.
  2. Spiral or ring pattern, making concentric rings that tighten in a spiral, starting on the outer edges of the breast and ending around the nipple.
  3. Wedge patterns in and out (or "quadrants").

Be sure to use three levels of pressure (light, medium, and firm) and small "massaging" circles when palpating the breast using the patterns described above.  

Click HERE for a step-by-step guide to your monthly self-breast exam.


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Self Breast Examination
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Diet, Exercise and Breast Cancer
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