How to perform a breast self-exam

Early detection of breast cancer is an effective weapon in the fight against breast cancer. By performing regular breast self-exams, you will be more likely to recognise unusual changes in your breasts, which could be an early sign of breast cancer.

Here’s everything you need to know about breast cancer self-examinations, including how to perform one.

What is a breast cancer self-examination?

A breast self-exam is an inspection of your breasts that you do by yourself to understand the normal look and feel of your breasts. By performing regular self-examinations, you can more easily notice a change in your breasts that seems abnormal.

Brunette woman smiling whilst holding pink breast cancer ribbon
Brunette woman smiling whilst holding pink breast cancer ribbon

Why breast self-exams are important

Although breast self-exams are not a proven technique to detect breast cancer, a large portion of women report that one of the first signs of their breast cancer was an unusual lump they discovered themselves.

Regular breast self-exams help you become more familiar with the normal consistency of your breasts; if anything changes, you will have a higher likelihood of detecting abnormalities.

Breast self-examination steps

If you know what your breasts feel like in their normal and healthy state, it will be easier to detect unusual changes if they occur. Here’s how to perform a breast self-exam.

Step 1: Visually inspect your breasts in front of a mirror

Start off by visually inspecting your breasts with your arms by your side. Next, raise your arms overhead as if to touch the ceiling

You should be looking for any visual changes in the skin:

  • Rash
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Dimpling
  • Sunken nipple
  • Growing veins
  • New shape/size
Brunette woman smiling whilst holding pink breast cancer ribbon
Brunette woman smiling whilst holding pink breast cancer ribbon

Step 2: Perform a physical inspection whilst laying down

The next step is to check for abnormalities by feeling your breast while laying down.

Place a pillow under your right shoulder. Begin in the armpit and make a series of three small circles. Use a firm touch with the three middle fingers of your hand, keeping your fingers flat and together. Using varying pressure – light, medium, and deep – cover your entire breast, and repeat for the other side. .

Step 3: Perform a standing visual inspection in the shower

A breast self-exam is easier to perform when the skin is wet and soapy. Many women choose to perform this step in the shower, but it is not mandatory to perform in the shower.

Raise your right arm above your head and use the touch technique described in the previous step. Repeat for the other side.

Brunette woman smiling whilst holding pink breast cancer ribbon

Breast self-exam FAQs

Here are the answers to the most commonly asked questions around breast self-exams.

How often should I do a breast self-exam?

You should perform a breast self-exam once a month. .

When is the best time to do a breast self-exam?

The best time to perform a breast self-exam is 2 or 3 days after the end of your period, when your breasts are not tender or swollen. A good habit is to set a notification in your diary for a particular day to remind yourself to do a breast self-exam.

What should I do if I find a lump?

If you find a lump or abnormality during your breast cancer self-examination, don’t panic. Many women have lumps or lumpy areas in their breasts, which turn out to be non-cancerous (benign). Give your doctor a call to explain what is causing the lump or breast changes.

What should I look out for when performing a breast self-exam?

You should be looking out for the following warning signs

  • Nipple discharge
  • Pain in any area of the beast
  • An enlargement of the gland
  • A lump in the breast or armpit
  • Nipples being at different levels
  • Puckering of the skin of the breast
  • A change in the skin around the nipple
  • Dimpling of the nipple or nipple retraction
  • An unusual increase in the size of the breast
  • One breast being unusually lower than the other