How to do a breast self examination
Regularly examining your breasts allows you to become familiar with how your breasts usually look and feel and can help you more easily identify when a change occurs. Many women naturally have some lumpiness and asymmetry (differences between the right and left breast). The key to the breast self-exam is to learn how to find changes in the breasts that persist over time.
If you are menstruating, it is best to perform a breast self-exam about a week after menstruation (period) has ended, when breasts are usually less tender or swollen. If you no longer have periods, choose a regular day each month, such as the first or the fifteenth, to perform your examination.
Step 1 - Looking in the mirror
Begin by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips.
Here’s what you should look for:
- Breasts that are their usual size, shape, and colour.
- Breasts that are evenly shaped without visible distortion or swelling.
If you see any of the following changes, bring them to your doctor’s attention:
- Dimpling, puckering or bulging of the skin.
- A nipple that has changed position or an inverted nipple (pushed inward instead of sticking out).
- Redness, soreness, rash, or swelling.
Step 2 - Raise your arms
Now, raise your arms and look for the same changes.
Step 3 - Looking for any discharges
While you’re in the mirror, look for any signs of fluid coming out of one or both nipples. This could be a watery, milky, or yellow fluid or blood.
Step 4 - Feeling your breasts while lying down
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. Use a firm, smooth touch with the first few finger pads of your hand, keeping the fingers flat and together.
Cover the entire breast from top to bottom, side to side — from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen, and from your armpit to your cleavage.
Use a circular motion, making rings about 1cm wider each time. Beginning at the nipple, moving in larger and larger circles until you reach the outer edge of the breast, being sure that you cover the whole breast.
Then try moving your fingers up and down vertically, in rows. Be sure to feel all the tissue from the front to the back of your breasts: for the skin and tissue just beneath, use light pressure; use medium pressure for tissue in the middle of your breasts; use firm pressure for the deep tissue in the back. When you’ve reached the deep tissue, you should be able to feel down to your ribcage.