Performing a breast self-exam (BSE) at least once per month is the best way to detect a lump or other abnormality. It is best to do a BSE the same time every month. For those who are menstruating, choose a time in the month after your cycle completes.
How to do a breast self-exam
Note: A BSE should be done lying down or in the shower. You want to feel relaxed, not tense, as you are performing the BSE.
Follow these steps:
- Make sure to use the pads—not the tips—of your three middle fingers for the exam.
- Use different pressure levels. Your goal is to feel different depths of the breast by using different levels of pressure to feel all the breast tissue.
- Take your time. Hurrying through the process could cause you to miss something.
- Follow a pattern. Don’t move randomly around the breast. Instead, move your fingers in a path around the breast. Also, check the area beneath the armpits.
- Look at your bosom in the mirror straight on, as well as while bending forward at the waist. Notice if there is any asymmetry.
If you are uncertain about how to proceed, ask your physician for a demonstration. Also, this video will help you learn how to do a BSE correctly when at home.
What You Might Find During a BSE
For those who are menstruating, breast tissue undergoes changes at various points throughout the monthly menstrual cycle—so you may find lumpy areas or changes in your breast that are completely normal. Breasts often feel different in different places. A firm ridge along the bottom of each breast is normal, for instance. The look and feel of your breasts will change as you age. Finally, diet can alter breast tissue; for example, a diet high in red meat can increase the fibrous feel of the breasts.
Contact Your Doctor If You Notice Any of the Following:
- A hard lump or knot anywhere in the breast tissue or under the arm
- Changes in the way your breasts look or feel, including thickening or prominent fullness that is different from the surrounding tissue
- Dimples, puckers, bulges or ridges on the skin of your breast
- A recent change in a nipple to become pushed in (inverted) instead of sticking out
- Redness, warmth, swelling or pain
- Itching, scales, sores or rashes
- Bloody nipple discharge
Your doctor may recommend additional tests and procedures to investigate breast changes, including a clinical breast exam, mammogram, thermography, and ultrasound.