Women should be familiar with the breasts’ standard look and feel. Women should also understand that finding a lump or other change does not always mean cancer. Sometimes, finding an abnormality can cause excessive anxiety and worry while waiting for additional test results. And while self-exams are beneficial, checking at home is not a substitute for clinical screenings such as mammograms.
Start with a visual check-in
To perform a self-exam, start by facing the mirror to look for any size, shape, or symmetry changes. Women should make observations both with the arms down and with arms raised overhead. If a woman has a visual impairment that makes a visual exam challenging, experts recommend asking a trusted friend or family member for help.
Many women prefer to perform a self-exam either while in the shower or while lying down. When lying down, the breast tissue spreads out and is easier to feel. The moisture in the shower could make moving the fingers over tissue easier.
Tips to keep in mind
Experts recommend using the pads of the 3 middle fingers to feel the breast. Use different pressure levels to ensure feeling all of the breast tissue. Many women make the mistake of going too quickly; a full breast self-exam may take a few minutes to do correctly. Use a consistent method every time, such as imagining going over the breast like a clock face or in sections like slices of pie. Also, choose to do the self-exam at the same time each month, as breast tissue can change slightly with the menstrual cycle.
Ask the doctor for help
If women are unfamiliar with how to perform a breast self-exam, ask the OB/GYN for a quick lesson. These healthcare providers can give tips and recommendations for how to person self-exam effectively.
When to call the doctor
Many women naturally have some small lumps or dense breast tissue, which is why breast familiarity is important. Make an appointment with the OB/GYN if there is a hard lump or knot, redness or swelling, itching, sores, changes in the nipple, or nipple discharge. The doctor may recommend additional tests to identify or rule out breast cancer. For more information about breast self-exams, speak with a healthcare provider.