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Breast Self-Exam

Taking a few minutes each month to check your breasts may save your life.

This simple procedure should be done 7-10 days after your menstrual period starts. After menopause or a hysterectomy, breasts should be examined on the first day of the month. Also, be sure to have clinical breast exams and mammograms on schedule.

woman looking at breasts in mirror

1. In the Mirror
With your hands at your side, look for changes in the shape, size or skin texture of your breasts. Raise your arms over your head and repeat your visual examination. Gently squeeze each nipple between your thumb and forefinger to check for discharge.

diagram of woman lying down and feeling breast in a circular pattern
2. Lying Down
To examine your right breast, put a pillow under your right shoulder; put your right arm behind your head. Use the finger pads (not your fingertips) of the middle fingers of your left hand to press firmly on your right breast. Check for lumps or thickening. Examine your breasts in the same manner each time, in one of the following ways:
  • a circle
  • an up-and-down direction
  • a wedge (moving your fingers inward and outward toward the nipple)

Repeat on your left side.

3. In the Shower
Fingers may slide more easily over wet, soapy skin, making lumps and other changes easier to feel. Remember to check the entire breast and underarm area. Stand in the shower and use the same technique as in the lying down exam. Use your right hand for the left breast, and your left hand for the right breast.

Report any changes or irregularities to your health care provider.

Breast Exam Schedule

Age 40+
Mammogram annually
Clinical breast exam annually
Monthly breast self-exam

Ages 18-39
Clinical breast exam every 3 years
Monthly breast self-exam

Breast Exam Warning Signs

If you detect any of the following, see your health care professional right away.

  • Check nipples for cysts, eczema, ulcers, discharge, bleeding or change in shape or location.
  • Check breast shape for change in size or contour, bulges, flattening or indentation (including armpit area).
  • Check breast surface for puckered skin, dimples, bulges, moles that have enlarged or darkened, lumps, thickenings or sores.

This guide is not intended as a replacement for professional care. For complete diagnosis and treatment, see your health care professional.