How to perform a self-exam

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There are two parts to a self-exam: how your breasts look and how they feel.

How they look:

  • Before putting on a bra, stand or sit in front of a well-lit mirror with your arms relaxed at your sides. Take a good, careful look. And don’t be shy. Do you see anything unusual? Check for changes in the size, shape and contour of each breast, including the nipple. Also look for puckering, dimpling or changes in skin texture.
  • Take a look at yourself from different angles and arm positions. There’s no such thing as a bad angle here. Keep your hands at your side, raise your arms overhead, place your hands firmly on your hips (which will help tighten your chest wall muscles) and even bend forward.

How they feel:

Use the pads of your three middle fingers—moving them in an overlapping circular motion about the size of a dime over your breasts. Move up and down from the outside of the breast (under your armpit) toward the middle of your chest, making sure to cover every area of the breast. Examine up to your collarbone and down to the bottom of the ribcage.

Remember you are feeling for lumps, bumps or anything that may seem different from your last monthly exam.

  • In the shower: Raise one arm. With fingers flat, examine every part of your breasts, gently feeling for a lump or changes under the skin. Use your right hand to examine your left breast and your left hand to check your right breast.
  • Lying down: Place a towel or pillow under your right shoulder and your right hand on your forehead, palm up. Examine your right breast with your left hand pressing gently but firmly. Then use your finger and thumb to gently squeeze your nipple, watching for any discharge. Repeat by examining the left breast in the same way.

While not every lump is breast cancer, it is important to let your doctor know if you find a lump or anything that feels different or concerns you.

The best time to do your monthly breast self-exam is about a week after your period starts. If you have gone through menopause, you should perform your breast self-exam on the same day each month.

Monthly Breast Self-Exam

You should perform a breast self-exam every month following your menstrual cycle. After menopause perform a breast self-exam on a set day of each month, for example, the first day of each month.

In the shower: Raise one arm. With fingers flat, touch every part of each breast and the area around it, gently feeling for a lump or changes under the skin. Use your right hand to examine your left breast, your left hand for your right breast.

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Before a mirror: Place your arms at your sides, on your hips, then raise your hands above your head, look carefully for changes in the size, shape and contour of each breast. Look for puckering, dimpling, or changes in skin texture. Turn to left and right and repeat.

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Lying down: Place a towel or pillow under your right shoulder and your right hand on your forehead – palm up. Examine your right breast with your left hand by touching gently but firmly.

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Vertical and Circular: Fingers flat, press gently in vertical lines or small circles, starting under your arm, and move in toward the nipple. Be sure to cover your entire breast area. Repeat with left breast area.

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Resting Your Arm: With your arm resting on a firm surface, use the same method to examine the underarm area. This is breast tissue also.

If at any time you notice changes see your physician right away.

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“This self-exam is not a substitute for periodic examinations by a qualified physician.”

Watch our step-by-step breast self-exam video to learn more.