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How to perform a self breast exam

An annual mammogram and a monthly breast exam is essential for overall women’s health and wellness. Even with modern technology, the rates of diagnosis are still staggering. Practicing preventive care will keep your ta-tas in good health along and can help ensure early detection.

How to do self breast exam
Image: Terese Condella/SheKnows

Step 1: Observe

Breast self exam step 1
Image: Terese Condella/SheKnows

Stand in front of a mirror with your shoulders straight and your hands on your hips. Examine your breasts for the following:

  • Breasts that are their normal shape, size and color
  • Breasts that are evenly shaped without visible distortion or swelling

If you observe any of these changes, bring them to your doctors attention immediately:

  • Dimpling, puckering or bulging of the skin
  • A newly-inverted nipple (one that goes in instead of pushing out) or a nipple that has completely changed position
  • Swelling, redness, rash or soreness

Step 2: Observe with raised arms

Breast self exam step 2
Image: Terese Condella/SheKnows

Still looking at the mirror, raise your arms above your head and examine your breasts using the directions in Step 1. Again, if you observe any of the changes listed above, bring it to your doctor’s attention immediately. Many women find that performing this exam in the shower is the best method because their skin is wet and slippery.

Step 3: Watch for fluid

Examine your breasts to see if fluid is coming out of one or both of your nipples. It could come in the form of a watery, milky or yellow fluid, or blood. Healthy breasts should not secrete fluid (unless you are lactating).

Step 4: Lie down and examine

Self breast exam laying down
Image: Terese Condella/SheKnows

Next lie down on your side. Use your right hand to feel your left breast and then your left hand to feel your right breast. Use the first few finger pads of your hand; keep your fingers flat and together to use a circular motion (about the size of a quarter) on your breast. Keep your touch smooth but firm.

Make sure to feel the whole breast from top to bottom (collarbone to the top of your abdomen) and side to side (armpit to cleavage).

To ensure that you cover the whole breast, perform the circular motion in a steady and regular pattern. One way to do it is by beginning at the nipple, moving in larger and larger circles until you reach the outer edge of your breast. Or you can move your fingers vertically, in rows, as if you were mowing a lawn. (Hint: The vertical, up-and-down approach seems to work best for most women.) Using light pressure, feel all the tissue from the front to the back of your breasts and for the skin and tissue just beneath. Use medium pressure for tissue in the middle of your breasts and use firm pressure for the deep tissue in the back. Once you’ve reached the deep tissue, you should be able to feel down to your ribcage.

Step 5: Sit and examine

Self breast exam sitting down
Image: Terese Condella/SheKnows

Finally, sit or stand up and examine your breasts using the directions from Step 4. Again, be thorough in your examination, as early detection is the best way to beat this disease!

More on breast cancer

10 ways to prevent breast cancer
Breast cancer tips every woman should know
Quick guide to breast cancer screening

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