Breast Self Exam

Examining your breasts is an important way to find a breast cancer early, when it's most likely to be cured. While not every cancer can be found this way, it is an important step you can and should take for yourself. Try to get in the habit of doing breast self-examination once a month. This will cause you to become familiar with how your breasts normally look and feel. During a breast self exam (or "BSE") you may feel things but not know what they mean and that can be frustrating. However, it is important that you get to know the look and feel of YOUR breasts. The more you learn about them, the easier it will become for you to tell if something unusual has occurred.

Examine yourself a few days after your period ends, when your breasts are least likely to be tender or, if you are no longer having periods, choose a day that's easily remembered, such as the first or last day of the month or the date of your birthday.

You may find it helpful to keep a written record of your breast self-exams. This can be reminder to you of how your breasts felt from one month to the next, with notes about where you feel lumps or irregularities.

Begin by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips. You should look for breasts that are their usual size, shape, and color and that are evenly shaped without visible distortion or swelling. What is important is not the normal difference between your two breasts, but any change in either breast from its normal appearance. Changes such as: dimpling, puckering, bulging of the skin; a nipple that has changed position or an inverted nipple (pushed inward instead of sticking out) or redness, soreness, rash, or swelling.

Now, raise your arms and look for the same changes.

Next, feel your breasts while lying down, using your right hand to feel your left breast and then your left hand to feel your right breast. Place a pillow under the shoulder on the side you will be examining as this will help to flatten the breast against the chest wall. Use a firm, smooth touch with the first few fingers of your hand, keeping the fingers flat and together. Press gently but firmly to immobilize the skin and roll the pads of the fingers over the underlying tissue. Use the flat, inner surfaces of your fingers, not your fingertips, which are less sensitive. Go over each area three times using first light, then medium and finally firm pressure. Cover all the underarm and upperchest areas as well as the entire breast area.

Follow a pattern to be sure that you cover the whole breast. You can begin at the nipple, moving in larger and larger circles until you reach the outer edge of the breast. Or you can also move your fingers up and down vertically, in rows, as if you were mowing a lawn.

Finally, feel your breasts while you are standing or sitting. Many women find that the easiest way to feel their breasts is when their skin is wet and slippery, so they like to do this step in the shower.

If you have any questions regarding Breast Self Examination, please contact the Women's Diagnostic Center at 251-460-5258.