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The earlier that breast cancer is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat, and the greater the likelihood of survival. For that reason, some experts recommend that women over age 20 perform a monthly breast self-exam to look for new lumps and other changes. Of course, the self-exam is not a substitute for regular breast examinations from your provider or for screening mammograms. In fact, some experts question the value of self-exams, and the American Cancer Society considers them to be optional.

Your provider can instruct you on whether self-exams are appropriate for you, and on the proper method to conduct a self-exam. In some cases, you’ll be advised to perform monthly exams, usually 3-5 days after your period, when your breasts are less tender and lumpy. If you do monthly exams, it is important to conduct them at the same time in your monthly cycle.

First, lie on your back. Place your right hand behind your head. With the middle fingers of your left hand, gently yet firmly press down using small circular motions to examine the entire right breast. Then, while sitting or standing, examine your armpit, because breast tissue extends to that area. Gently squeeze the nipple, checking for discharge. Repeat the process on the left breast.

Although some women find it easier to perform the exam in the shower, when the skin is soft and wet, you are more likely to examine all of the breast tissue if you are lying down.

Next, stand in front of a mirror with your arms by your side. Look at your breasts directly and in the mirror for changes in skin texture, such as dimpling, puckering, indentations, or skin that looks like an orange peel. Also, check the shape and contour, and look to see if the nipple is turning inward. Do the same with your arms raised above your head.

If you do see any changes or suspect that something isn’t quite right, be sure to discuss this immediately with your provider. Please remember, do not be alarmed if you find something out of the ordinary during your self-exam. Keep in mind that most women do have some lumps in their breasts.

Downloadable Women’s Breast Exam PDF