Breast self exam

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Definition

A breast self exam is a check-up a woman does at home to look for changes or problems in the breast tissue. Many women feel that doing this is important to their health.

However, experts do not agree about the benefits of breast self exams in finding breast cancer or saving lives. Talk to your health care provider about whether breast self exams are right for you.

Alternative Names

Self-examination of the breast; BSE

Information

The best time to do a self breast exam is about 3 - 5 days after your period starts. Your breasts are not as tender or lumpy at this time in your monthly cycle. 

If you have gone through menopause, do your exam on the same day every month.

Breast self-exam

Begin by lying on your back. It is easier to examine all breast tissue if you are lying down.

  • Place your right hand behind your head. With the middle fingers of your left hand, gently yet firmly press down using small motions to examine the entire right breast.
  • Next, sit or stand. Feel your armpit, because breast tissue goes into that area.
  • Gently squeeze the nipple, checking for discharge. Repeat the process on the left breast.
  • Use one of the patterns shown in the diagram to make sure that you are covering all of the breast tissue.
Breast self-exam

Next, stand in front of a mirror with your arms by your side.

  • Look at your breasts directly and in the mirror. Look for changes in skin texture, such as dimpling, puckering, indentations, or skin that looks like an orange peel.
  • Also note the shape and outline of each breast.
  • Check to see if the nipple turns inward.
Breast self-exam

Do the same with your arms raised above your head.

Most women have some lumps. Your goal is to find anything new or different. If you do, call your health care provider right away.

References

American Cancer Society recommendations for early breast cancer detection in women without breast symptoms. Cancer.org. Last modified 8/30/21012.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 12/19/2012
  • Melanie N. Smith, MD, PhD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

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This page was last updated: April 14, 2014

         
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