How To Do a Breast Self-Exam

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Regular Self-Checks Can Save Your Life

Although mammograms are crucial to your breast health and wellness, they aren’t the way we first discover most breast lumps. In fact, it’s most common for a woman with a breast lump to find it herself during a breast self-exam. That makes these exams an important tool for detecting breast cancer, as well as benign (noncancerous) breast diseases.

Below, we’ve included tips and strategies for you to get the most out of your monthly breast self-exam. You can also download our helpful infographic for quick reference.

General Tips for Breast Self-Exams

Follow these steps to maximize the effectiveness of your self-exam routine:

  • Be consistent. The best time of the month for your breast self-exam is seven to 10 days after the start of your period. If you no longer have periods, choose the same day every month to do your exam.
  • Set a reminder. Mark your calendar, make an appointment in your smartphone, or tie it to an important date that falls at the same time every month.
  • Follow the same steps every time. Ask your doctor to review your self-exam technique. Make sure to use this same technique every time you do your breast self-exam.

Breast Self-Exam Phase 1: Look for Breast Changes

Start your exam in front of a mirror with good lighting, and follow these steps:

  1. Relax as you sit or stand — whichever is more comfortable for you.
  2. Let your arms rest at your sides, and look for changes in your breasts — lumps, thickenings, dimples, or changes in your skin texture.
  3. Raise your arms above your head, and look for these same changes.
  4. Place your hands on your hips, press down, and tense your chest muscles. Lean forward slightly so your breasts aren’t resting on your chest wall. Look for the same changes.

Breast Self-Exam Phase 2: Feel for Breast Changes

Next, lie down on your back, and continue your self-exam:

  1. Place your right arm behind your head.
  2. Place a pillow or rolled towel under your right shoulder.
  3. Use the finger pads of your three middle fingers (index, middle, and ring fingers) of your left hand to feel for lumps in your right breast. Use overlapping dime-sized circular motions to feel the breast tissue.
  4. Move around your breast in an up-and-down pattern, starting under your arm and moving across the breast to the middle of the breastbone (sternum).
  5. Use three different levels of pressure — light, medium, and firm — to feel all levels of your breast tissue.
  6. Check the entire breast area going down until you feel only ribs and up to the neck or collarbone.
  7. Examine your right armpit for lumps.
  8. Repeat these steps for your left breast and armpit, using your right hand to examine the tissue.

What to Do If You Notice a Change in Your Breasts

If you see or feel any changes in your breasts from one self-exam to the next, stay calm. Remember: 80% of all breast lumps are benign (noncancerous). However, if a lump doesn’t go away on its own in two to three days after you notice it, you should call your doctor, or call us at 413-794-8899 to schedule an appointment to get these changes checked out by an expert.

Make a Breast Care Appointment

Call us to schedule an appointment with one of our breast team members: 413-794-8899

mother and daughter wearing pink ribbons for breast cancer awareness month

Know Your Breast Cancer Risk

Do you have a personal or family history of breast disease or breast cancer? We offer genetic testing and counseling services.
Dr. Holly Mason with breast cancer patient at Baystate Breast & Wellness Center

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