How to Perform a Self-Breast Exam: A Step-By-Step Guide

Breast cancer is a concern that affects many women worldwide, as millions of women live with breast cancer and the disease causes over 680,000 deaths per year. Early detection is crucial for effective treatment, and one of the most accessible methods for early detection is a self-breast exam. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the self-breast exam instructions, breast self-exam guidelines, and explain how to do a self-breast exam and what to look for.

Importance of Self-Breast Exams

Performing regular self-breast exams is a proactive way to detect any abnormalities in the breast tissue early on. These exams are an essential part of a broader preventative care strategy. According to various studies, early detection increases the chances of successful treatment significantly.

When Should a Woman Perform a Self-Breast Exam?

Recommendations for self-breast exams suggest that women should start performing them as early as their 20s. The best time to do a self-breast exam is a few days after your menstrual cycle ends, as the breasts are less swollen and tender during this period.

How to Do a Self-Breast Exam: Step by Step

Preparation for Self-Breast Exam:

  • Consult your healthcare provider for a demonstration before you begin breast self-exams.
  • If you menstruate, perform the exam when your breasts are least tender, usually the week after your period ends.

Visual Examination:

  • Sit or stand shirtless and braless in front of a mirror with your arms at your sides.
  • Inspect your breasts for any puckering, dimpling, or changes in size, shape, or symmetry.
  • Check your nipples to see if they are turned in (inverted).
  • Inspect your breasts with your hands pressed down on your hips.
  • Raise your arms overhead and press the palms of your hands together, inspecting your breasts again.
  • Lift your breasts to see if ridges along the bottom are symmetrical.

Manual Examination:

  • Lie down on a flat surface or perform the exam in the shower with soap to help your fingers glide smoothly over your skin.
  • Use the pads of your three middle fingers for the exam.
  • Apply different levels of pressure to feel the tissue closest to the skin, a little deeper, and the tissue closest to the chest and ribs.
  • Take your time and don’t rush — it may take several minutes to carefully examine your breasts.
  • Follow a pattern, such as imagining the face of a clock over your breast or the slices of a pie, and move your fingers methodically to ensure you examine your entire breast.

What’s Normal:

  • Many women find lumps or changes in their breasts — some of these are normal changes that occur at various points in the menstrual cycle.
  • A firm ridge along the bottom of each breast is normal.
  • The look and feel of your breasts will change as you age.

When to Contact Your Healthcare Provider:

Make an appointment with your healthcare provider if you notice:

  • A hard lump or knot near your underarm.
  • Changes in the way your breasts look or feel, including thickening or prominent fullness that is different from the surrounding tissue.
  • Dimples, puckers, bulges, or ridges on the skin of your breast.
  • A recent change in a nipple to become inverted instead of sticking out.
  • Redness, warmth, swelling, or pain.
  • Itching, scales, sores, or rashes.
  • Bloody nipple discharge.

Your healthcare provider may recommend additional tests and procedures to investigate breast changes, including a clinical breast exam, mammogram, and ultrasound.

Limitations and Risks:

  • Finding a lump can cause anxiety, but most changes or lumps found in breasts aren’t cancerous.
  • Additional tests and procedures may be necessary to check out lumps or changes.
  • A breast self-exam isn’t a substitute for a breast exam by your healthcare provider (clinical breast exam) or a screening mammogram.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is recognized as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time dedicated to educating the public about the benefits of performing self-breast exams and the importance of early detection. During this month, many organizations offer free breast cancer screenings and educational resources to help women take control of their health.

Performing a self-breast exam is a simple yet effective way to take control of your health. By following these self-breast exam guidelines, you can be proactive in the early detection of breast cancer and improve your chances of successful treatment.

At MyAlly Health, we offer confidential reproductive health services to women and men in the Grand Forks, North Dakota area, regardless of income or age. This includes breast examinations as part of our wellness exams. We also provide Pap smears and pelvic examinations, as well as pregnancy tests and annual examinations — like physicals and mental health screenings — to promote your overall health. You can also receive Gardasil vaccinations to protect you from HPV infections.

Our services also include preventative care, like breast examinations and getting tested for STIs; determining the best birth control for you; and even getting vaccinated against the flu. The clinical services we provide are all performed by Nurse Practitioners and Resident Physicians. 

In order to empower and engage individuals in their well-being and reproductive health, MyAlly Health offers education, counseling, advocacy, and healthcare services. Find out more about what we do, help make a difference by donating to our cause, or schedule an appointment with us today!

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