Breast self-exams are a way to check for any irregularities in your breasts, such as lumps or changes. It involves observing and feeling your breasts. If you notice any unusual changes, it’s important to inform your doctor promptly, as detecting breast cancer in its early stages significantly increases survival rates.
How to Perform a Breast Self-Examination
If you choose to do a self-breast examination, follow these steps:
- Stand in front of a mirror: Stand with your arms at your sides, not stiff, and observe your breasts for changes in size, shape, position, or any skin differences. Look for puckering, dimples, sores, or discoloration. Inspect your nipples for sores, cracks, or changes in direction.
- Hands on hips: Place your hands on your hips and press down to tighten the chest muscles below the breasts. Turn from side to side to examine the outer parts of your breasts.
- Bend forward: Bend forward in front of a mirror, roll your shoulders and elbows forward to tighten the chest muscles, causing your breasts to hang forward. Look for changes in breast shape.
- Hands behind your head: Clasp your hands behind your head and press forward. Turn from side to side while examining the outer areas of your breasts. Remember to check the area beneath your breasts; you may need to lift them for a better view.
- Check for nipple discharge: Gently squeeze the nipple and pull outward to check for any fluid. Repeat on the other breast.
- While in the shower: Use soapy hands to feel for lumps or thickening in your armpit. Place one hand on your hip and reach with the other hand to feel the underarm area on both sides.
- Check the collarbone area: Feel for lumps or accumulations over and below the collarbone.
- Lathered hands method: Raise one arm behind your head, lather your hands, and use the flat part of your fingers to gently press into your breast. Move in an upward and downward pattern, from the bra line to the collarbone. Repeat on the other side.
- Lying down: Lie down and place a small cushion or folded napkin under your left shoulder. Put your left hand behind your head and use your right hand to examine the upper part of your left breast with fingers together. You can use a cream for ease.
- Clockwise pattern: Imagine your breast as the face of a clock, starting at 12 o’clock, and moving in small, circular motions until you complete a full circle. Your fingers should remain flat and in contact with your breast. Move an inch closer to the nipple and repeat until you’ve examined the entire breast, including the upper and outer areas that extend into the underarm region.
- Nipple examination: Place your flat fingers directly over the nipples and feel underneath them for any changes, gently pressing inwards. Repeat these steps on the other breast.
By following these steps, you can perform a thorough breast self-exam to aid in early detection.