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How to Perform a Breast Self-Exam

A breast self-examination (BSE) is a step-by-step approach for checking your breasts for any abnormalities. While a BSE alone is not an appropriate screening tool for breast cancer, regular self-exams can provide helpful information about your breast health when combined with mammography and regular physical exams.

Steps to Perform a Breast Self-Exam

You should begin monthly breast self-exams in your early 20s. The best time to perform the exam is when the breasts are not tender or swollen. For many women, this is at the end of their monthly period. If you no longer have a period, pick a day that’s easy to remember like the first of every month.

  • Comfortably lie on your back with your right arm behind your head. While lying down, your breast tissue will spread evenly over the chest wall, making it very thin and making it easier to closely examine your breasts.
  • Using the three middle fingers of your left hand, use overlapping, small circular motions to examine your breasts for any lumps or abnormalities.
  • Use three levels of pressure when feeling your breasts: Light pressure for tissue closest to the skin; medium pressure for a deeper examination; and firm pressure to examine the breast tissue closest to your chest.
  • Use up-and-down patterns to carefully examine all areas of your breasts, from your collarbone to your ribs.
  • After you have carefully examined your right breast, next use the three middle fingers of your right hand to examine the left breast.
  • After examining your left breast, stand in front of a mirror with your hands pressing firmly on your hips to visually check for any abnormalities in the appearance of your breasts.
  • Finally, examine each underarm for lumps or abnormalities while in a standing or seated position while raising your arm straight above your head.

If you’re unsure of how to perform an exam, schedule an appointment to speak with your SSM Health Women’s Health provider to review these steps and answer any questions you have.

What to do if You Find a Lump During a Breast Self-Exam

First and foremost, don’t panic! Finding a lump does not necessarily mean you have breast cancer. In fact, more often than not, lumps are found to be benign (non-cancerous). However, you should schedule an appointment with your SSM Health provider immediately for closer examination. Our highly skilled team will perform a thorough evaluation to determine what, if any, treatment is needed.

BSEs may be awkward or frustrating at first because you’re not sure what you’re feeling. Over time, you’ll learn what’s normal for you, so you can identify anything out of the ordinary. Make your breast health a priority by taking this proactive step each month, and be sure to bring any changes you notice to the attention of your doctor.

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