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How-To Perform a Breast Self-Exam

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  • Written By: Grace Wegner
How-To Perform a Breast Self-Exam

How to Perform a Breast Self-Exam

Check yourself! The purpose, steps, and how-to of a breast self-exam.

A breast self-exam is a self-screening method that helps you to be familiar with how your breasts normally feel and look. Knowing your breast shape, size, and texture will help you notice any change or difference in your breasts. You know your body best, so you are your own best advocate when it comes to good breast health!

What is the Purpose of a Breast Self-Exam?

At-home breast self-exams help you notice changes in your breasts, which may be signs of infection, breast disease, or breast cancer. Any breast changes should be discussed with your healthcare provider immediately. While most lumps and abnormalities aren't cancerous, it is better to be proactive to maintain good breast health and detect cancer early if it is present.

Breast self-exams are critical for breast health, but they should never be used as a substitute for breast exams from your provider and screening tests such as mammograms. It is still important to see your primary care provider and/or gynecologist annually for breast cancer screenings.

When Should I Do a Self-Exam?

It is recommended by experts to perform a breast self-exam every month. Even though mammograms are a more reliable way to detect breast cancer, doing a monthly self-exam is the most helpful screening you can do in the comfort of your home for your breast health. By understanding what your breasts feel like under normal circumstances, you can recognize changes and inform your healthcare provider as soon as possible. In fact, studies suggest that for detecting breast cancer, many individuals notice lumps while performing self-exams at home.

What Time of the Month Should I Do My Self-Exam?

Individuals who still have regular menstrual periods should do a self-exam after their period ends. This is because normal hormonal changes in the body during menstruation can affect the texture and feel of the breast. For those who have reached menopause or have irregular periods, choose a regular, easy-to-remember date to perform the exam, such as the first day of the month. Whether you prefer a physical journal or a digital note, it is important to track and keep a record of any changes that you may have noticed in your breasts.

How do I do a Self-Exam?

self breast exam positions info card

There are different ways you can perform a breast self-exam at home:

1) In front of a mirror

Stand in front of a mirror with your arms at your sides and visually inspect your breasts. Look for breast shape changes, breast swelling, dimpling in your skin, or changes in the position of your nipples. Next, raise your arms high over your head and check for the same things.

Finally, place your palms on your hips and press firmly to make your chest muscles flex. Look for the same changes again. It is very important to examine both sides since left and right breasts are typically not identical—few women’s breasts are.

2) In the shower or standing up

Use your left hand to inspect your right breast and vice versa. With the pads of your 3 middle fingers, check your entire breast with light, medium, and firm pressure. Feel for any lumps, thickening, or any breast changes. Try a circular pattern in order to check every part of the breast.

Then, examine the tissue near your armpit with light, medium, and firm pressure. This is recommended because the breast tissue extends further than the shape of your breasts. Make sure to observe your areola, the area around your nipple, in addition to squeezing your nipple to check for discharge. Again, it is vital to repeat these steps on each breast!

3) Lying down

While lying down, place a pillow underneath your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head. With your left hand, use the pads of your 3 middle fingers to examine your entire right breast and armpit. Do a circular motion, using light, medium, and firm pressure. Feel for any lumps, thickening, or any breast changes. Remember to also check your areola and squeeze your nipple to check for discharge.

Now, move the pillow underneath your left shoulder and repeat the steps. Lying down allows your breast tissue to spread more evenly. Especially for women with larger breasts, this is a great position to feel for changes.

Still unsure how to properly perform a breast self-exam? Contact your healthcare provider! They can show you the correct method in addition to explaining what you are feeling in the breast tissue. With their expertise, you can be confident in your ability to notice any changes from month to month.

When Should I Contact my Doctor?

Contact your healthcare provider if you notice any of the following:

  • Lumps or abnormalities in your breast tissue
  • Irregular or bloody nipple discharge
  • Dimpling, redness, or swelling of your skin
  • Changes in the direction of your nipple, such as turning inward
  • Nodes or asymmetrical ridges at the bottom of your breast
  • Puckering, or any signs of wrinkling of the breast (puckering is typically only seen when you raise your arm and a groove forms on the curve of your breast)

If you do notice a lump or abnormality in your breast, remain calm and contact your healthcare provider immediately. It is extremely common for individuals to have masses, nodes, or lumpy areas in their breasts for varying reasons and durations. In fact, menstruation and other conditions can affect the way that your breasts look and feel.

A Message from Myrtue Medical Center:

Performing a monthly breast self-exam is a key component of breast health and aids in the early detection of disease or cancer. Becoming familiar with your breasts will help you become more aware of when and if changes occur. If you notice any changes, our exceptional healthcare providers and diagnostic imaging team are here for you every step of the way.

Check yourself and be the best you can be!

Contact us at 712.755.4516 to schedule a screening or mammogram with Myrtue's Diagnostic Imaging department! If you have an account with MyChart you can schedule your mammogram directly online—when it’s convenient for you! Visit and click on MyChart Patient Portal.