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How to Detect Breast Cancer Using Self-Exams

There are many good reasons for doing a breast self exam (BSE) each month. Breast cancer is most easily treated and cured when it is found early. When you do a BSE each month, you learn what your breasts normally look and feel like. A self exam is easy to do and can help you notice any changes from month to month.

During a self exam, you are looking for a lump or changes in the skin that stand out as different from the rest of your breast tissue. Many women are confused about BSE because their breasts generally feel “lumpy.” The best time to do your BSE is about one week after your menstrual period. If you do not have regular periods, or sometimes skip a month, do your BSE on the same day each month.

How to Perform Your Breast Self-Exam

  1. Stand in front of a mirror and look at both breasts. Look for anything abnormal such as fluid leaking from your nipples, puckering, dimpling or scaling of the skin.
  2. Clasp your hands together behind your head, and then press your hands forward.
  3. Press your hands firmly on your hips and bend slightly toward the mirror as you pull your shoulders forward. Keep looking for anything abnormal.
  4. Move around the breast in one set way. Do it this way every time.
  5. Raise your left arm. Use three or four fingers of your right hand to explore your entire left breast. Start at the outer edge; press the flat part of your fingertips in small circles, moving the circles slowly around the breast. Slowly work toward the nipple. Be sure to cover the entire breast. Pay special attention to the area between the breast and the underarm, including the underarm itself. Feel for any unusual lump or mass under the skin.
  6. Gently squeeze the nipple. Look for any fluid leaking from the nipple. See your doctor, if you have a discharge during the month.
  7. Steps 5 and 6 should be repeated lying down using the same pattern from step 4. Now lie flat on your back with your left arm over your head and a pillow or folded towel under your left shoulder. This position flattens the breast and makes it easier to check. Repeat the exam on your right side.

Learn more about understanding breast care.