Breast health and self-exam instructions
Routine breast exams
Stats matter. Just ask Katie Douglas of the Indiana Fever. Katie lost her mother to breast cancer. Now, along with Community Breast Care, she is a strong advocate for routine breast exams. Watch Katie's public service announcement >>
To be an advocate for yourself, learn how to perform a breast self-exam below.
The four steps for breast health
- Breast self-exam
Know how your breasts normally look and feel. Examining your breasts via regular self exam is one way for you to get to know how your breasts normally feel and to notice any changes. Report any changes to your doctor. Instructions for breast self-exam are provided below.
- Regular check-up
See your doctor for a clinical breast exam at least every 3 years starting at age 20, and annually after age 40. This exam can reveal abnormalities missed by a mammogram.
- Mammography exam
The American Cancer Society recommends having yearly mammograms beginning at age 40. If you are younger than 40 years and have a family history of breast cancer or other concerns, discuss when to begin screening with your doctor.
- Risk evaluation
Your doctor has tools to help identify women at high risk of breast cancer. Identify your risk factors for breast cancer and discuss them with your doctor.
- Increasing age
- Having a mother, sister or daughter with breast cancer
- Having the results of a breast biopsy show abnormal cells
- Beginning your first period before age 12
- Having a first child after age 30 or not ever having children
Breast self-exam instructions
Performing a monthly breast self-exam (BSE) is your first line of defense against breast disease. Perform the exam at the same time each month and report any abnormalities to your physician. See the information below on how to properly perform the breast self-exam. Note: This self-exam is not a substitute for periodic exams by a qualified doctor. Report any lumps or changes to your doctor.
Before a mirror
- Firmly press your hands down on your hips to tighten your chest muscles.
- Look carefully for any changes in the size, shape or contour of your breasts.
- Check for anything unusual - discharge, puckering, dimpling or changes in skin texture.
- Lie flat on your back and place your right hand behind your head and a pillow under your right shoulder.
- Use the finger pads of the 3 middle fingers on your left hand to make overlapping dime-sized circular motions to feel your right breast.
- Apply 3 different levels of pressure - light, medium and firm - with your finger pads to check the breast tissue.
- Use each pressure level to feel for lumps before moving to the next spot.
- Start by your armpit and move down to just below your breast.
- Use the same circular motions using an up-and-down pattern to cover the entire breast area.
- Repeat on your left breast using your right hand.
Sitting or standing
- Raise your arm slightly.
- Use the same circular motions with your finger pads to examine each underarm.
Changes to look for
Tell your doctor if you notice any of the following things in your breasts:
- Lumps, hard knot or thickening of the skin
- Swelling of part of the breast
- Skin irritation or dimpling
- Nipple pain or the nipple turning inward
- Redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk
- A lump in the underarm area