Breast Self Exams

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Mammograms are the most effective way to detect tumors in your breasts, but, as we discussed last week, there is still debate surrounding whether annual mammograms are really necessary. Besides mammograms, your doctor will exam your breasts at your annual exam. But the National Breast Cancer Foundation encourages women to conduct a breast self-exam at least once a month. According to their website, “Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump.” [1]


    How to Do a Breast Self Exam

    The best way to complete an exam is by both seeing and feeling. Self exams should be completed in three different positions: in front of a mirror, in the shower and lying down.

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    In Front of a Mirror

    Stand with your hands on your hips and look at your breasts in the mirror. You should be looking for any swelling, redness, breasts that are not evenly shaped or are not the same size, fluid coming from the nipples and changes in your nipples. As you do this each month, you will know what your breasts look like and you will more easily be able to notice any changes.


    While still in front of the mirror, raise your arms above your head, clasping your hands together. Look for the same things you did in the first step.


    Lying Down

    Lie down with a pillow under your shoulder and behind your head (one side at a time). Using the opposite hand (right hand for left breast; left hand for right breast), take your pads of your fingers and move in circular motions (around the size of a quarter) around your entire breast and armpit area. Complete this several times using different pressures – light, medium and firm. Then switch the pillow and work on the opposite breast. You are checking to see if there are any lumps or if your breasts feel thicker in some areas. Check for discharge from your nipples as well.


    In the Shower

    Complete the same exam, using the pads of your fingers while you are standing in the shower. You don’t necessarily need to do this in the shower but you should be standing in an upright position.


    If you notice any lumps, thickening or knots in your breast, you should immediately contact your doctor for further tests. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, if you do find a lump you shouldn’t panic, 80 percent of lumps are not cancerous. [2]


    In order to remember to complete your self-exam every month, it is recommended that you do it at the same time. A few days after your period ends, when hormone levels are stable, is a good time. For women who have already gone through menopause, choose a day  of the month, such as the 1st or the 15th and do your exam on that day every month.




    [1] [2] “Breast Self Exam,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, National Breast Cancer Foundation


    “The Five Steps of a Breast Self-Exam,” Modified 2012, Sept 17, Staff Writer,


Published On: December 04, 2012