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Breast Self-Exams: 5 Quick Steps

Life is busy, but as women, we need to take charge of our health. If you notice a change in your body, be sure to talk to a care provider.

Beebe Women's Health encourages women who have an average or low risk of developing breast cancer to be "breast self-aware." This means noticing if your breasts change, if you have increased pain for no apparent reason, or if you notice a lump. 

Women who are not at risk for breast cancer do not necessarily need to perform monthly self-breast exams. In the past, this was often recommended and it led to false-positives and unneeded concern.

Early detection has been proven to increase survival rates significantly among women diagnosed with breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. If you want to do a self-exam, here are some tips. NOTE: These steps do not have to be done in order, but all steps should be completed to ensure a proper breast exam.

How to do a Self Breast Exam

To do a self breast exam at home, follow these five steps.

1. Stand in Front of the Mirror

Start by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your hands on your hips. Look at the size, shape, and color of your breasts, while also paying attention to any signs of swelling.

2. Raise Your Arms

Hold them up and look for any changes in the same areas as above.

 3. Check for Fluid

During Steps 1 and 2 look for any fluid discharge. Common types are yellow, milky, or watery fluid—and sometimes blood.

4. Lie Down

Feel each breast using the opposite hand—right hand for your left breast and left hand for your right breast. Make sure to cover your entire breast by pressing firmly with your three center fingers.

Also, remember to keep your fingers flat and together throughout the process (keeping your fingers level and smooth will help keep the exam consistent). Typically, it's best to start at the nipple and then begin moving in larger circles until you've covered the entire breast.

5. Stand Up

Complete the same three-finger pressing, starting at the nipple, by standing up and feeling each breast with the opposite hand as instructed above. You’ll also want to feel under your armpits for any abnormal lumps.

During the process, if you come across any lumps, discoloration, or fluid, schedule an appointment with your doctor right away.

Other Tips for Doing a Breast Exam at Home

  • Try to stay relaxed as you do the self exam.
  • Make a self breast exam a part of your regular routine, like during a shower or when you’re getting dressed.
  • If you make an exam a part of your regular routine, try to do it at the same time every month, like after your menstrual cycle.
  • Use firm pressure to feel breast tissue that is closer to the chest and ribs.
  • Ask your provider to show you how to perform a breast exam.
  • Record any changes or pain after your exam and report them to your provider.

Keep in mind that even though breast self exams offer early detection, they are not a replacement for mammograms, which can detect tumors long before they surface as a lump you can detect by hand. Annual screening mammograms are key for maintaining your breast health.

Beebe is dedicated to giving you the resources you need for breast health. Learn more about Beebe's Breast Health Program, which includes mammograms and other health services, or call (302) 645-3169 to speak to the Cancer Screening Nurse Navigator.