How to Conduct a Breast Self-Exam

How to Conduct a Breast Self-Exam

Establishing a regular breast self-exam is an important part of women’s wellness. Finding breast cancer early offers the best chance for successful treatment and remission.

Breast checks regularly can help you maintain your breast health and spot cancer early when it is easier to treat and more likely to be cured. Women should perform breast self-exams to check for changes. Most bumps and irregularities aren’t cancer, but you should still notify your doctor if you notice changes.

The team at Innovative Women’s Care in Las Vegas, Nevada, board-certified OB/GYN Marguerite Brathwaite, MD, FACOG, wants patients to have the information necessary to perform breast checks at home. This helps keep track of how your breasts feel normally and alert you to changes.

What is a breast self-exam? 

A breast self-exam is a way to check your breast for changes. Monthly breast self-exams can assist you in detecting changes that could indicate an infection or breast cancer. When found early, the odds of breast cancer survival improve dramatically.

You should regularly continue seeing your primary care physician and/or gynecologist. Self-examinations are critical for breast health. However, do not use them in place of checkups with your doctor and screening procedures, such as mammography. 

What time of month to perform breast self-exams

Consistency is key. If you have periods each month, it’s best to check your breasts after your period. This is because hormonal changes during your period change how your breasts feel. Women who no longer menstruate or have extremely irregular periods can choose any day of the month. Opt for a day that is easy to remember, such as the first or last day of the month. 

A breast self-exam takes only a few minutes, making it easy to include in your regular routine.

Steps for breast checks

The following is a guide to performing breast self-exams.

Visual inspection 

Stand in front of a mirror without your shirt or bra, and place your arms by your sides. Visually scan your breasts for any form, swelling, dimpling, or nipple changes. Next, raise your arms high and perform the same check. Finally, flex your chest muscles and check again. Make sure to examine both breasts. 

Standing self-breast check

Examine your left breast with your right hand, then vice versa. Use three fingers to press each part of the breast. Apply gentle pressure first, then medium, and firm. 

Examine your skin for lumps, thick patches, or other changes. Going in a circular pattern assist helps ensure that you hit each area. Then, press the tissue under the arm. Check under the areola, then gently press the nipple to check for discharge. Repeat these steps on the other side of your body. 

Lying self-breast check 

It’s often easier to check your breast while lying down. If this is more comfortable for you, feel free to perform your breast-self checks this way. 

Lie down with a pillow beneath your right shoulder and put your right arm behind your back. 

Use the same approach as in step 2 with your left hand, pressing all breast tissue sections and under your arm with the pads of your fingers. Flip the pillow over and check the opposite breast and armpit. Finally, under the areola, gently press the nipple to check for discharge. 

What to look out for 

Don’t panic if you discover changes. Most things found on breast self-exams are not cancer. Here’s what to look out for: 

  • Changes in size
  • Lump in breast tissue
  • Nipple discharge
  • Rash across the nipple
  • Changes in nipple sensation
  • Puckering or dimpling of the skin
  • Breast swelling
  • Skin warmth and redness

Contact your gynecologist if you notice any suspicious changes to your breasts.

The Innovate Women’s Care team is dedicated to helping you stay strong and healthy throughout all phases of life. If you’re due for a physician-performed breast check or mammogram or are concerned about your breast health, call our Las Vegas office, and a team member can assist you with scheduling a visit with Dr. Brathwaite.