Your Guide To The Breast Self-Exam

You should always perform a Breast Self-Exam | Miami Center of Excellence

Breast cancer. Pink ribbon on a woman's breasts. Concept of medicine and health care

While many women rely strictly on mammograms and ultrasound screenings to detect breast cancer, the breast self-exam (BSE) is also an effective method of early detection. It’s true that not all cancers can be found through BSE, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an essential step you should do to take care of yourself and your body. This week, we’re here to give you all the info, and a few tips, you need for a comfortable and effective breast self-exam.


Why Should I Do A BSE?

A study done by Johns Hopkins Medical Center found that around 40% of diagnosed breast cancers are first found by women themselves. Mammograms and ultrasound tests have the ability to detect tumors before any symptoms may occur, but having more familiarity with your breasts is also an important part of early detection. Knowing how your breast look and feel can help you to notice where there are changes and abnormalities, giving you the ability to take action sooner.


How Often Should I Do A BSE?

You should be performing a breast self-exam at least one time per month. You can do it at any time, but it’s suggested to check one week after your period starts when swelling and sensitivity are less. If you have irregular periods, set a calendar reminder to perform a BSE on the same day each month.


How Should I Do My BSE?

A when doing breast self-exam, it’s important to check all over the area. Here’s a breakdown of the various steps for a thorough exam.

  • Look at yourself in the mirror. With your arms down look for changes in the size, color, and shape of your breasts. Do you have any swelling, redness, dark spots, etc?  Are your nipples in their typical position? After that, raise your arms and check for these signs and symptoms again.
  • Lay down in a comfortable position. Laying down allows the breast tissue to spread out evenly, making it easier to feel the deeper tissue that may go unnoticed. Place your left arm above your head, take your right hand and begin moving your fingertips around your nipple in a circular motion. Work outward until you’ve gone from the nipple to your collarbone and below your rib cage, including your armpit. Then, move your fingertips up and down in a straight line from outside working in towards the sternum. Repeat this process on the other side.
  • Shower check-ins. Because it can be hard to feel lumps in the deeper tissue while standing, it’s not advised to do your thorough exam in the shower. But, having a weekly mini-exam is also a helpful way to get to know your breast tissue and may lead to finding newly formed lumps in between monthly checks.


What Am I Looking For And What If I Find Something?

It is possible to find a lump as small as 3mm while conducting a thorough breast self-exam, but many signs may be more obvious than that. To start, here’s what you should look out for:

  • Is there an area that looks different from any other area on either breast?
  • A mass, lump, or marble-like area under the skin that lasts through your menstrual cycle.
  • Is there a change in the feel or appearance of your breasts or nipples, such as redness, puckery, or scaly skin?
  • Is there bloody or clear discharge coming from the nipple?

If you find any of these symptoms the first thing to do is DON’T PANIC! Keep in mind that there is a natural “lumpiness” to your breast tissue, and what you should be checking is changes to that inherent lumpiness. Set up an appointment with your doctor if you notice any changes, but remember that the majority of lumps found in breast tissue are benign.


Need reminders on how and when to do your BSE? Set a repeating reminder on your mobile device every month and take the guesswork out of the “when.” If you need a refresher as to the how, download and print a visual guide to the breast self-exam. And as always, if you’d like more info or would like to talk to someone about breast cancer and breast self-exams, the medical professionals at Miami Center of Excellence are always here for you.