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Breast Self-Examination

Why?
When?
How?
Guidelines for early breast cancer detection
Internet resources

Why do the breast self-exam?

There are many good reasons for doing a breast self-exam each month. One reason is that it is easy to do and the more you do it, the better you will get at it. When you get to know how your breasts normally feel, you will quickly be able to feel any change, and early detection is the key to successful treatment.

Remember: A breast self-exam could save your breast--and save your life. Most breast lumps are found by women, themselves, but in fact, most lumps in the breast are not cancer. Be safe, be sure.

When to do breast self-exam

The best time to do breast self-exam is right after your period, when breasts are not tender or swollen. If you do not have regular periods or sometimes skip a month, do it on the same day every month.

How to do breast self-exam
  • Lie down and put a pillow under your right shoulder. Place your right arm behind your head.
  • Use the finger pads of your three middle fingers on your left hand to feel for lumps or thickening. You finger pads are the top third of each finger.
  • Press firmly enough to know how your breast feels. If you're not sure how hard to press, ask your health care provider. Or try to copy the way your health care provider uses the finger pads during a breast exam. Learn what your breast feels like most of the time. A firm ridge in the lower curve of each breast is normal.
  • Move around the breast in a set way. You can choose either moving in a circle motion, moving in an up and down motion or moving outwards from the center in a wedge motion. Do it the same way every time. It will help you to make sure that you've gone over the entire breast area, and to remember how your breast feels.
  • Now examine your left breast using right hand finger pads.
  • If you find any changes, see your doctor right away.
  • For added safety, you should check your breasts while standing in front of a mirror right after you do your breast self-exam each month. See if there are any changes in the way your breasts look; dimpling of the skin, changes in the nipple, or redness or swelling.
  • You might also want to do a breast self-exam while you're in the shower. Your soapy hands will glide over wet skin making it easy to check how your breasts feel.
Guidelines for the early detection of breast cancer:
  • Breast exam every year by a health care provider after the age of 18.
  • Have mammogram screenings every 1-2 years between ages 40-50.
  • Have a mammogram every year over the age of 50.
  • Regular screening for breast cancer is an important part of your health plan.
  • If you have a history of breast cancer in your family, discuss mammography screening guidelines and scheduling with your health care provider.