Merck Manual

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How to Do a Breast Self-Examination

How to Do a Breast Self-Examination

1. While standing in front of a mirror, look at the breasts. The breasts normally differ slightly in size. Look for changes in the size difference between the breasts and changes in the nipple, such as turning inward (an inverted nipple) or a discharge. Look for puckering or dimpling.

How to Do a Breast Self-Examination

2. Watching closely in the mirror, clasp the hands behind the head and press them against the head. This position helps make subtle changes caused by cancer more noticeable. Look for changes in the shape and contour of the breasts, especially in the lower part of the breasts.

How to Do a Breast Self-Examination

3. Place the hands firmly on the hips and bend slightly toward the mirror, pressing the shoulders and elbows forward. Again, look for changes in shape and contour.

How to Do a Breast Self-Examination

Many women do the next part of the examination in the shower because the hand moves easily over wet, slippery skin.

How to Do a Breast Self-Examination

4. Raise the left arm. Using three or four fingers of the right hand, probe the left breast thoroughly with the flat part of the fingers. Moving the fingers in small circles around the breast, begin at the nipple and gradually move outward. Press gently but firmly, feeling for any unusual lump or mass under the skin. Be sure to check the whole breast. Also, carefully probe the armpit and the area between the breast and armpit for lumps.

How to Do a Breast Self-Examination

5. Squeeze the left nipple gently and look for a discharge. (See a doctor if a discharge appears at any time of the month, regardless of whether it happens during breast self-examination.)

Repeat steps 4 and 5 for the right breast, raising the right arm and using the left hand.

6. Lie flat on the back with a pillow or folded towel under the left shoulder and with the left arm overhead. This position flattens the breast and makes it easier to examine. Examine the breast as in steps 4 and 5. Repeat for the right breast.

How to Do a Breast Self-Examination

Women who choose to examine their breasts should do so at the same time each month. For menstruating women, 2 or 3 days after their period ends is a good time because the breasts are less likely to be tender and swollen. Postmenopausal women may choose any day of the month that is easy to remember, such as the first.

Adapted from a publication of the National Cancer Institute.