Breast Cancer Self-Examination
Home Test: Techniques and Procedures Explained

Self examination


Breast Cancer Self-Examination


Why Examine My Breasts Regularly?
When Should I Do It?
How Do I Perform a Breast Self Examination?
What About The Results?

Return to Main Guide:
Breast Cancer Guide

Why Examine My Breasts Regularly?

A breast self examination (BSE) (image) is a regular inspection which women carry out to check for any abnormalities which may indicate breast cancer. Doctors generally agree that women should self exam every month as an early breast cancer diagnosis can improve cure and breast cancer survival rates. That said, long-term studies from Russia and China show no difference in either the death rates or stage of breast cancers discovered in women who perform careful breast examinations than those who do not. On an individual basis however, if a woman is found to have a malignant lump, early detection and treatment does increase her chance of cure or at least remission. It is important not to rely on an annual mammogram alone because early tumors may not show up on a mammogram. All women over 20 should consider carrying out regular BSE's procedures, including those who are pregnant, breast-feeding and postmenopause (as well as those who have had breast implants). Women with breast cancer risk factors should be extra vigilant.

When Should I Do It?

If you are still having monthly bleeds the best time to carry out a BSE is immediately after one menstrual cycle has finished (when a period is over). The breasts tend to be less lumpy and sensitive at this time. Women who are not menstruating because of pregnancy, menopause or hysterectomy should just pick a day of the month (any day) and repeat it every month. If you don’t manage to carry out an exam regularly, don’t worry - an occasional test is still better than none. See breast cancer prevention for more tips.

How Do I Perform a Breast Self Examination?

Some women find it helpful to ask a doctor or nurse to demonstrate how to do a BSE, while others prefer to watch a demonstration on YouTube. Also, some women find it useful to draw a map of their breasts, noting on the sketch the position of any lumps, tenderness, and skin thickening. This can be referred to the following month for tracking any potential issues. There are 3 common ‘search patterns’ or techniques for breast tests: the vertical pattern, concentric rings and the ‘clock’ pattern. Some women find they become more familiar with their breasts if they use the same search pattern every month. In this article we explain the concentric ring pattern.

Step 1: Hands on Hip

Start by looking in the mirror, your shoulders straight and your arms on your hip. Take a look at your breasts. Take a note of the appearance of the breasts and if there has been any change since the last BSE. Do you notice:

1. Change in size of either breast or in the shape and color?
2. Have either nipple changed position (pushing downwards or inwards instead of sticking out straight)?
3. Any nipple discharge (besides breast milk)?
4. Is there any dimpling (like cellulite) or bulging of the skin?
5. Are there any sores or flaky skin around the areola (brown section of skin around the nipple)?

Step 2: Raise Arms

Raise your arms above the head, this will help reveal any changes in the contour of the breasts. Placing on the hands on the hips with the shoulders forward will reveal any problem dimpling.

Step 3: Examining Breasts in More Detail

1. The next part of the exam can be performed either lying down a bed or in a shower. Lathering soap over the breasts will help your fingers glide more smoothly. When examining the breasts use the pads of your fingers, not the finger tips and use the 3 middle fingers. Apply enough pressure that you can feel through your skin but not enough so that you feel your ribs. Take your time. It can take up to 5-10 minutes to thoroughly exam the breasts.
2. Raise the right arm above the head. Press the 3 middle fingers of the left hand together, and using the pads of the fingers to gently make a circular movement at the top of the right breast (near the collarbone). Continue moving clockwise around the outside of the breast, taking in the collarbone, armpit and cleavage.
3. The pressure should be firm but if it causes discomfort, lighten it slightly.
4. The process should be continued in gradually smaller circles until the entire breast have been checked, including the areola and nipple.
5. Gently squeeze the nipple to check for any discharge.
6. Repeat the process for the left breast.
7. If you have time, it is a good idea to repeat the breast check lying down on a bed. Tuck the raised arm behind the head. Some women find it useful to place a folded towel or small pillow under the shoulder of the side being examined.

Also: Read about Thermography screening and recommended health screenings for women.

What About The Results?

Many women find lumps in their breasts, and in 9 out of 10 cases these turn out to be cysts or changes that occur as part of a regular menstrual cycle - they do not turn out to be breast cancer symptoms. Finding a lump is not a reason to panic. If in doubt contact your doctor. But always contact your doctor if you notice:

1. A rock-hard breast lump near your underarm.
2. If the breasts look different in size, color or shape.
3. If a nipple has changed shape or you notice a discharge.
4. If the breast skin becomes scaly, swollen, itchy or warm.

  Related Articles on Breast Cancer

To learn more about the disease, see the following:

Breast Cancer Staging
Cancer Guide and Breast Biopsy
Breast Cancer Treatments and Lumpectomy

Back to Homepage: Womens Health Advice

Please Note: Information provided on this site is no substitute for professional medical help. See Disclaimer.
Copyright. All rights reserved.