Why, When and How
Monthly breast self-examination (BSE) includes both looking and feeling over the entire breast and chest area. The steps can be performed in any order, but each step is important. Women should use the pads, not the tips, of the three middle fingers when performing BSE. The time required to perform the exam varies with the size and features of a woman’s breasts, but usually only takes about 15 to 20 minutes each month. Women should be sure to examine the breasts in the same manner each month, check the entire breast and armpit area, and remember how the breasts feel from month to month. Some women prefer to keep a small diary of their monthly breast self-examinations.
When to self-examine
Menstruating women: Women who are menstruating should perform a breast self-examination from a few days to about a week after menstruation (period) has ended, when breasts are usually less tender or swollen. Women who are no longer menstruating should do their BSE on the same day every month. Try to pick a day that is easy to remember, such as the first or fifteenth of every month, and make that the day each month for a breast self-examination.
How to self-examine
- Raise arms in front of a mirror and examine for irritation, swelling or discharge.
- While taking a shower or bath, gently explore with fingertips the breast and underarm areas for lumps.
- Examine thoroughly, and remember how it feels. Follow patterns shown above when examining the breast.
- Spiral or ring pattern, making concentric rings that tighten in a spiral, starting on the outer edges of the breast and ending around the nipple
- Vertical or “up and down” pattern (or “squares”) covering the entire breast
- Wedge patterns in and out (or “quadrants”)
- Lie with one arm tucked behind the head and, with the other hand, examine the opposite breast.
Breast self-exams should be performed once each month beginning at age 20 and continue each month throughout a woman’s lifetime. If you find any changes or abnormalities, contact your doctor immediately. Some abnormalities cannot be detected by touch alone. Therefore, it is recommended that women receive a mammography exam once a year.