Breast Self-Exam How-To . . . and Why It Matters


This post is part of an editorial series, “Healthy Mama,” brought to you by the Fort Worth Moms Blog and Texas Health Care Privia Medical Group North Texas, which includes Dr. Elisabeth Wagner, Dr. Mickey Hooper, Dr. Bea Kutzler, Dr. Doug Decker, Dr. Jamie Erwin, Dr. Kathleen Cammack, Dr. Emily Maas, Dr. Jennifer McLeland, Dr. Lindsay Breedlove, Dr. Martha Guerra, Dr. Danielle Burkett, Dr. Robert Zwernemann, Dr. Jay Herd, Dr. Ingrid Kohlmorgen, and Dr. Martin Read. We hope these pieces provide you with helpful information, encouragement, and answers as you make decisions for your own health.

Disclaimer :: “Breast Self-Exam How-To . . . and Why It Matters” is brought to you by Women’s Health Services.

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When it comes to breast health, prevention and early detection are both key elements of fighting back against breast cancer.

Not only are breast self-exams easy to do, but they also take up very little time, making them a quick and effective way for you to take control of your own health advocacy and monitoring.

As a rule, adult women of all ages should perform a breast self-examination once per month. According to Johns Hopkins Medical Center, around 40 percent of breast cancers that are diagnosed were initially detected by women who’ve felt a lump while performing a breast self-exam.

Even though mammograms are an important diagnostic tool that enables doctors to detect breast cancer before a lump can be felt, breast self-exams help women become familiar with how their breasts both look and feel so that they can quickly alert their doctors should they detect any changes.

What to Look for

When performing a breast self-examination, it’s important to watch for these changes in your breasts and breast tissue:

  • Non-milk discharge that appears bloody.
  • Lumps in the breast.
  • Swelling.
  • Nipple irregularities such as pain, redness, swelling, or nipple inversion.
  • A hard knot or a lump near your armpit.
  • Changes in the way your breasts look or feel, including thickening or fullness that differs from surrounding tissue.
  • Dimples, puckers, bulges, or ridges on the skin of the breast.
  • Itching, scales, sores, or rashes, or other skin irritations.

How to Perform a Breast Self-Exam

There are many different positions in which to conduct a breast self-exam. The three main ways to perform a breast self-exam are:

  1. In front of a mirror. Hold your arms by your sides and visually inspect your breasts. Next, lift up your arms high over your head. While doing this, look for any changes in contour, any swelling or dimpling of the skin, or visual changes in the color, shape, and appearance of the nipples. Now, while resting your palms on your hips, firmly press down to flex the muscles of your chest. It’s important to note that the left and right breast will not match. In fact, few women’s breasts ever do. Therefore, simply look for any puckering, dimpling, or other changes particularly on one side of the breast.
  2. While lying down. Breast tissue will evenly spread out along the chest wall while you are lying down. Place a pillow beneath your right shoulder and position your right arm behind your head. Meanwhile, using your left hand, begin to rotate the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently in small circular motions. Be sure to canvas both the entire breast and armpit area. Finally, using firm and light-to-medium pressure, squeeze the nipple. Be on the lookout for discharge and lumps. Repeat these steps for the left breast.
  3. Woman Showering
    Photo by Anton Malanin on Unsplash

    While in the shower. When you’re in the shower, move the pads of your fingers in a circular motion and pattern. Working from the outside to the center, check the entire breast and armpit area.

Thoroughly examine both breasts every month by feeling for lumps, thickening, or hardened knots. Contact your healthcare provider immediately should you feel any changes. Any lumps need to be examined and evaluated by a healthcare provider.

Timing and Other Tips

Breast self-examinations should be performed monthly and a few days after your menstrual cycle. This will ensure that the breasts are not swollen or tender. It’s important to never rush while performing a breast self-exam.

Another good tip is to use different pressure levels so that you can access various depths of breast tissue. For example, use light pressure to feel the tissue near the skin, medium pressure to get a little deeper, and firm pressure to reach the tissue that is close to the chest and ribs. Utilize each level of pressure before moving on to the next area of the breast. Finally, follow a pattern to make sure you are examining your entire breast.

Breast tissue tends to change at various points during the menstrual cycle. Also, both the look and feel of your breasts change with age. So, it’s important to keep in mind that finding a lump is no reason to panic, as breast tissue can feel different in different areas. As an example, it’s normal to see a firm ridge along the bottom of each breast.

Visiting a breast health specialist will enable you to stay on top of your overall breast health while giving you necessary and helpful tips to properly perform your monthly breast self-exam at home. Prevention is always the best way to go.

WHS Large Logo with TaglineWomen’s Health Services is an all-female OB/GYN group providing full health care for women in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. The north office is located off of I-30 adjacent to Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital. The south office is just south of I-20 on South Cooper St. All WHS physicians are board certified. The doctors are skilled in managing all aspects of women’s health care, including normal and high-risk pregnancy, gynecologic surgery, incontinence treatment, annual exams, and contraceptive and hormone therapy needs. They are dedicated to taking care of female patients from adolescence through menopause. Their goal is to provide quality care with high patient satisfaction.


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