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How to Perform a Self Breast Exam

written by: Diana Cooper • edited by: Lisa Lambson • updated: 10/8/2010

Learn how to perform a self breast exam. Know your breasts so changes can be reported to your doctor. Most masses found are benign breast lumps but if it is cancerous, early detection greatly increases your chance of survival.

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    Self Breast Exams

    Women should start doing self breast exams in their 20s. It should be done on the same day of the month. Women who menstruate should perform the exam 3-5 days after their period ends when the breasts are typically not tender or swollen. Women who do not menstruate should examine their breasts on the same day each month (the woman can choose the particular day).

    Self breast exams include visual and manual inspection. Women should be familiar with their breasts so they can note any changes to report to their doctor. Finding changes and/or lumps does not necessarily mean you have cancer. 80% of lumps are benign (not cancerous).

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    How to Perform a Self Breast Exam

    visual inspection visual inspection 1) Stand in front of a mirror, undressed from the waist up, in a well lit room. Relax your arms by your side and look at your breasts for changes in size and shape, dimpling, sores, or discoloration. Inspect both nipples for a change in direction, peeling, and sores.

    Next, tighten your chest muscles by placing your hands on your hips and pressing down firmly. Turn from side to side and inspect your breasts.

    Now, bend forward and tighten your chest muscles by rolling your shoulders and elbows forward. Look for changes in the shape of your breasts.

    Stand back up straight, clasp your hands behind your head, press your hands forward, and inspect your breasts turning from side to side.

    Lastly, check your nipples. Compress each nipple (pulling outward toward the end of the nipple) and look for any discharge.

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    manual inspection manual inspection 2) This part of your self breast exam should be done in the shower while slippery with soap and water. First, place your right hand on your hip and feel your right armpit for lumps with your left hand, using the finger pads of your 3 middle fingers. Repeat on your other side.

    Next, raise your right arm behind your head and gently press your right breast (using your 3 middle fingers from your left hand) in an up and down pattern over the entire breast. Repeat on your other breast.

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    manual inspection manual inspection 3) Lie down with a small pillow or rolled up towel under your right shoulder and place your right hand behind your head. Place your left 3 fingers on the upper and outer part of your right breast. Using small (dime size) circular motions, go completely around your breast and, once completed, move in about one inch toward your nipple and go around again. Continue this cycle until you've felt your entire breast. Afterwards, place your finger pads directly on top of your nipple and press down to feel for any changes beneath your nipple. Repeat on your other breast.

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    Photo Credit

    Images of self breast exams courtesy of the National Library of Medicine (in the public domain).