Women should know how their breasts
normally look and feel. Doing regular breast self exams is the best way
to know this. They also help you to notice any changes in your breasts.
This is also true for women who have breast implants. A change can be
a sign of a problem. If you find a change, see your doctor right away.
Does a lump mean I don't have a healthy
Most breast changes or lumps are not
cancer. But only a doctor can tell for sure. When breast cancer is found
early, you have more treatment choices and a better chance of recovery.
So, it is best to find breast cancer as early as possible.
Does a breast self exam take the place of
Breast self examinations should not take
the place of regular screening mammograms or clinical breast exams,
which are done by a doctor. Screening mammograms and clinical breast
exams can help doctors find breast cancer early. Treatment is more
likely to work well when cancer is found early. It is an important
part of breast health awareness.
How often should I examine my breasts?
Women ages 20 to 39 should have a
clinical breast exam at least once every 3 years. Once a woman turns 40,
she should have a clinical breast examination each year and a screening
mammogram every 1 to 2 years. Ask your doctor how often you need one.
Breast self exams are an option for women starting in their 20s. Ask
your doctor about the benefits and limitations of breast self
What am I looking for when I do a
breast self examination? You are looking for:
a hard lump or knot in or near the
breast or in your underarm
a change in the way your breasts look
If you find a lump or other change in one
of your breasts, check out the other breast. If both breasts feel the
same, the lumpiness is probably normal. Get to know your breasts better
by doing breast self exams. This will help you to tell the difference
between how your breasts normally look and feel and any changes. Here
are some other changes to look out for:
dimpling, puckering, or ridges of the
skin on the breast
a nipple that is pushed inward rather
than sticking out
redness, warmth, swelling, or pain
itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
nipple discharge other than breast milk
change in color, shape, size, or
texture of a breast
If you see or feel any of these changes,
see your doctor right away.
Is there a right way to examine my breasts?
Yes. There are several “right ways” to examine your breasts. Ask your
doctor to teach you how to do a breast self-exam. You need to make sure
you are doing it correctly.
How often should I do a self-exam?
Doing a regular breast self-exam is optional. It’s okay to not do a
breast self-exam or to not do it on a fixed schedule. But doing a breast
self-exam regularly is a good way to get to know how your breasts
normally look and feel. This way, you can more easily notice changes.
The best time to do a breast self-exam is when your breasts are not
tender or swollen, such as a few days after your period ends.
Be sure to
discuss any new lump or change with your doctor.
Step 1: Standing in front of a large
mirror Undress from the waist up in a well lit room. With your arms relaxed
at your sides see if you can see any differences in size, shape, or skin
texture. Also look at your nipples for peeling, change
in direction, differences in color and
sores. Don’t be troubled if your breasts are different in size and
shape. Most women’s are.
Raise your arms above your head and put
your hands firmly against the back of your head. Look from side to side
looking for differences. Check underneath your breasts. Lift your breast
if necessary to see this part.
Next put your hands on your hips, pushing down on
hips steadily. This will tighten the muscles under your breasts. Look
from side to side looking for differences. Then bend forward and check
the sides of your breasts. Check your nipples for discharge by placing
your thumb and forefinger on the skin surrounding your nipple and
Step 2: In the shower. With
soapy hands feel for any lumps in the underarm area. Place your right
hand on your hip and reach over with your left hand to feel in the right
armpit. Check for lumps and thickening both above and below your
collarbone. Repeat on the other side.
Then raise one hand above your head.
Press the fingers
of the other hand against the breast and follow an up and down pattern
along the breast until you have covered the entire breast. Repeat on the
Step 3: Lying Down.
down and place your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand
make small circular motions with your fingers looking for lumps on your
right breast. Start at the outside of your breasts and move inward in a
spiral pattern until you’ve reached your nipples. Always keep your
fingers in contact with the breast. Vary the amount of pressure you use
so that you can feel the tissue closest to the skin and the tissue
closest to the chest and ribs. To end place your fingers flat on the top
of your nipple and press inward to feel beneath the nipple for any
changes. Repeat on the other side.
Breast exams should be part of an overall
breast care process that includes hygiene, diet, and
breast exercise programs.
National "Get A
Mammogram: Do It For Yourself, Do It For Your Family" Campaign
(brochures in English, Chinese, Tagalog, and Vietnamese)
National Cancer Institute (NCI) Phone Number(s): 800-422-6237 or
Information on this
page is courtesy of the Office on
Women's Health in the Department of Health and Human Services.