Breast self examination (BSE) should be done once a month so you become familiar with the usual appearance and feel of your breasts. Familiarity makes it easier to notice any changes in the breasts from one month to another. Early discovery of a change from what is “normal” is the main idea behind BSE. Prognosis is much better if you detect cancer in an early stage.

If you menstruate, the best time to do a BSE is a few days after your period ends, when your breasts are least likely to be tender or swollen. If you no longer menstruate, pick a day such as the first of the month to remind yourself it is time to do your BSE.

Here is one way to do a BSE:

  1. Stand in front of a mirror. Inspect both breasts for:
    • Discharge from the nipples
    • Puckering, dimpling, or scaling of the skin
  2. Watching closely in the mirror, clasp your hands behind your head and press your hands forward (against your head).

  3. Press your hands firmly on your hips and bow slightly toward the mirror as you pull your shoulders and elbows forward.

  4. Raise one arm above your head. Use 3-4 fingers of the opposite hand to explore your breast on the side with the raised arm. This should be done firmly, carefully, and thoroughly. Beginning at the outer edge, press the pads of your fingers in small circles, moving the circles slowly around the breast. Gradually work toward the nipple. Be sure to feel all of the breast tissue, including the tissue between your breast and your underarm as well as the underarm itself. Feel for any unusual lumps or masses under the skin. Repeat on the other side.

  5. Repeat step 4 lying down with a pillow or a towel under the shoulder of the raised arm. This position flattens the breast and makes it easier to examine.
  6. Report any lumps, thickening, discharge, or changes to your health care provider.

Susan G. Komen Foundation
American Cancer Society

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