How to Do a Breast Self-Exam

And what to feel for.

The American Cancer Society suggests that all women get familiar with their breasts so they can quickly notice if there are any changes over time. Many experts say these self-exams can lead to early detection and, therefore, save lives.

Breast Self-Exam Steps

Perform a self-breast exam both standing up and lying down. Follow these steps:

  1. Raise your left arm while examining your left breast, and raise your right arm while examining your right breast.
  2. To examine your breast, use the flat pads of your fingers rather than your fingertips.
  3. Using light, medium or firm pressure, check all your breast tissue. Think of it as a clock, and your nipple is the center. Start at 12 o'clock and feel down in a line toward your nipple, and then back up toward 12. Then move to 1 o'clock, and repeat, all the way around the breast. Also be sure to squeeze your nipple to check for any discharge.
  4. It's important you don't forget the area around your armpits. Your breast tissue actually goes into and across your armpits. This area is called the axilla.
  5. Lie down and do the whole thing over again. Use a pillow under the shoulder of the breast you're checking for more comfort.

How Often You Should Do a Breast Self-Exam

On the same day every month. This way, you can quickly notice any changes if they come up. It can help to do it at the end of your period when your breasts are no longer tender or swollen.

Signs to Watch Out For

When you're checking your breasts each month, it's important to make note of any major changes. If you notice any of the issues below, according to the Cleveland Clinic, talk to your doctor right away:

  • Change in the look, feel or size of the breast.
  • Change in the look or feel of the nipple.
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin.
  • Lump, hard knot or thick spot in the breast tissue.
  • Nipple discharge.
  • Nipple or other area pulling inward.
  • Pain in one spot that won't go away.
  • Rash on the nipple.
  • Swelling of one or both breasts.
  • Warmth, redness, or dark spots on the skin.

The Bottom Line

If something doesn't look or feel right, talk to your doctor about it. And if you or your doctor do want to schedule a mammogram, here's all you need to know about what the procedure is, what it feels like, and what to expect.

Mammograms 101: When to Start & Appointment Tips

Plus, when to start if you have a family history of breast cancer.

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