Women of all ages are encouraged to perform monthly breast self-examinations, or BSE. These exams will help you get to know their usual appearance and how they feel under your fingers. Self-awareness, or knowing what is normal for your breasts, will make it easier for you to notice changes. Finding a change early is the main idea behind BSE.
When to do breast self-examinations
- If you have periods, do BSE two to three days after a period ends. Your breasts are least likely to be tender or swollen.
- If you no longer have periods, pick a day, such as the first of each month. Make that your day to do BSE.
How to do breast self-examinations
Stand in front of a mirror. Inspect both breasts for:
- Spontaneous nipple discharge (do not squeeze nipple)
- Scaly skin
The next two steps will make it easier to see changes in shape or contour of your breasts. You should be able to feel your chest muscles tighten as you do each step.
Watching closely in the mirror, clasp your hands behind your head. Press your hands forward. Now, press your hands firmly on your hips. Bow slightly toward the mirror as you pull your shoulders and elbows forward.
To examine your left breast, lie flat on your back. Place a pillow or folded towel under your left shoulder. Put your left arm over your head to flatten the breast. With three fingers side by side, make small circles in an up and down pattern.
Use three different levels of pressure – light, medium and firm. Use each pressure level to feel your breast tissue before moving on to the next area. Work slowly from top to bottom. Overlap each row to cover the entire breast. Pay special attention to the area between the breast and the armpit as well as the armpit itself. Feel for any unusual lump or mass under the skin. Repeat these steps to check your right breast.
There are different ways to do breast exams. Whichever BSE you choose, use the same pattern each month.