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How to Do a Self Breast Exam

Early detection is the most effective weapon in the fight against breast cancer. At Moffitt Cancer Center, we encourage all women to perform a monthly breast self-exam in addition to—not instead of—their regularly scheduled mammograms. This will help you become familiar with your breasts so you will know what is normal for you. Armed with that knowledge, you will be more likely to recognize unusual changes that could be early signs of breast cancer.       

A breast self-exam takes only a few minutes and can be easily completed while you are getting dressed in the morning or undressed at night. Before menopause, fluctuating hormone levels can cause breast swelling and tenderness at various times throughout the month. In general, the best time to perform a breast self-exam is approximately 3-5 days after a menstrual period begins. There are three steps:

1. Perform a visual inspection

Remove your shirt and bra, then stand squarely in front of a mirror. Look for any changes in your breasts, such as swelling, redness, dimpling, puckering, pitting and nipple inversion. Perform your visual inspection three times as follows: with your arms relaxed at your sides, with your arms raised over your head and with your hands placed firmly on your hips (so that your chest muscles are flexed).

2. Perform a manual inspection while you are standing

Next, use your right hand to manually examine your left breast for lumps, knots, thickened areas and other unusual changes. Using the pads of your three middle fingers, press on every part of your breast and underarm area. Follow a circular pattern to help ensure that you don’t miss any areas. Gradually increase the pressure you apply from light to firm. Gently squeeze your nipple to check for discharge. Then, use your left hand to manually examine your right breast using the same techniques.

3. Perform a manual inspection while you are lying down

Lie down on a bed or couch, place a pillow under your left shoulder and put your left hand behind your head. Use your right hand to manually examine your left breast using the same techniques outlined in step 2. Then, position the pillow under your right shoulder, put your right hand behind your head and use your left hand to manually examine your right breast using the same techniques.

If you discover a lump or another abnormality during your monthly breast self-exam, don’t panic; most breast lumps are not cancerous. Just be sure to discuss any unusual changes with a physician right away.

In the Don & Erika Wallace Comprehensive Breast Program at Moffitt Cancer Center, you can benefit from the latest options in breast cancer screening, diagnostics, treatment and supportive care. To request an appointment, call 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form online. As Florida’s top cancer hospital, we have disrupted the traditional patient care model to provide our patients with rapid care, allowing them to start treatment as soon as possible for the best outcome.