How to Perform a Breast Self-Exam

The Wellness Center

Theresa Dale, PhD, CCN, NP

How to Perform a Breast Self-Exam

Women older than 20 years should perform monthly breast self-examinations (BSE). If you still have menstrualperiods, you should perform the examination a few days after your period has ended. During this time, your breasts are not tender. If you are not menstruating (such as in menopause), BSE should be performed on the same day each month.

Use the following techniques to perform a BSE. Choose the method that is best for you.

Facing a mirror

Stand before a mirror and compare both breasts for differences in size, nipple inversion (turning in), bulging, or dimpling. Note any skin or nipple changes, such as a hard knot or nipple discharge.

Inspect your breasts in the following 4 steps:

  1. With your arms at your sides
  2. With your arms overhead
  3. With your hands on hips – Press firmly to flex your chest muscles.
  4. Bent forward – Inspect your breasts.

In these positions, your pectoral muscles are contracted, and a subtle dimpling of the skin may appear if a growingtumor has affected a ligament.

Lying down

Right breast 


Place a pillow under your right shoulder.

  • Put your right hand under your head.
  • Check the entire breast area with the finger pads of your left hand.
  • Use small circles and follow an up-and-down pattern.
  • Use light, medium, and firm pressure over each area of the breast.

Feel the breast with the surfaces of the second, third, and fourth fingers, moving systematically and using small, circular motions from the nipple to the outer margins.

Gently squeeze the nipple for any discharge.

Left breast …

Repeat these steps on your left breast using your right hand.

In the shower…

A BSE can easily be performed while you’re in the bath or shower. Some women discover breast masses when their skin is moist.

  1. Raise your right arm.
  2. With soapy hands and fingers flat, check your right breast.
  3. Use the same small circles and up-and-down pattern described earlier.

Repeat on the left breast.

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