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Breast self exam

Definition

A breast self exam is a check-up a woman does at home to look for changes or problems in the breast tissue. Many women feel that doing this is important to their health.

However, experts do not agree about the benefits of breast self exams in finding breast cancer or saving lives. Talk to your health care provider about whether breast self exams are right for you.

Alternative Names

Self-examination of the breast; BSE

Information

The best time to do a self breast exam is about 3 - 5 days after your period starts. Your breasts are not as tender or lumpy at this time in your monthly cycle. 

If you have gone through menopause, do your exam on the same day every month.

Begin by lying on your back. It is easier to examine all breast tissue if you are lying down.

  • Place your right hand behind your head. With the middle fingers of your left hand, gently yet firmly press down using small motions to examine the entire right breast.
  • Next, sit or stand. Feel your armpit, because breast tissue goes into that area.
  • Gently squeeze the nipple, checking for discharge. Repeat the process on the left breast.
  • Use one of the patterns shown in the diagram to make sure that you are covering all of the breast tissue.

Next, stand in front of a mirror with your arms by your side.

  • Look at your breasts directly and in the mirror. Look for changes in skin texture, such as dimpling, puckering, indentations, or skin that looks like an orange peel.
  • Also note the shape and outline of each breast.
  • Check to see if the nipple turns inward.

Do the same with your arms raised above your head.

Most women have some lumps. Your goal is to find anything new or different. If you do, call your health care provider right away.

References

American Cancer Society recommendations for early breast cancer detection in women without breast symptoms. Cancer.org. Last modified 8/30/21012.


Review Date: 12/19/2012
Reviewed By: Melanie N. Smith, MD, PhD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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