What are Breast Self Exams?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 19 October 2019
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A breast self exam (BSE) is a preventative tool used for early detection of breast cancer. All women can perform breast self exams, and they are encouraged to do so, as early detection makes breast cancer much easier to treat. Starting in their mid-twenties, women should perform breast exams once a month, and they should also visit a doctor for an annual exam. Doctors recommend that older women also have regular mammograms to search for abnormal tissue.

There are two goals to breast self exams. The first is to establish familiarity with the breast, so that changes in the tissue are readily identifiable. The second is to look for changes and monitor them. If women notice changes in their breasts, they should bring these changes to the attention of a doctor for further diagnostics. Many of the lumps which appear in breasts are benign, but it is important to eliminate any chance of breast cancer as early as possible.

During breast self exams, women look for lumps, skin dimpling, changes to the nipple, and changes to the texture and color of the breast. Typically, women perform breast self exams around a week after their periods have ceased, to ensure that the breasts are not swollen and tender. Women who are no longer menstruating may set a particular date each month for their breast self exams.


In the first step of a breast self exam, a women should remove all of the garments from her upper body and stand in front of a mirror so that she can look clearly at her breasts. Changes in the shape and size of the breasts should be noted, along with alterations to symmetry, texture, or color. The woman moves through a series of positions, looking at the shape of her breasts with her arms by her sides, arms raised in the air, and hands on her hips.

After the first section is complete, women should lie down on a flat surface. Previous guides to breast self exams suggested that women perform this step in the shower, but study has suggested that a prone position is better, since it spreads the breast tissue more evenly. One arm is raised over the head and the opposite arm is crossed over the torso. Using the pads of the three middle fingers of this arm, the woman makes small overlapping circles from the collarbone to the bottom of the breast, and all the way up into the armpit.

These small circles will reveal abnormalities in the tissue such as lumps. All breasts do have some lumps and protrusions, so it helps to become familiar with one's own lumps. It is also important to use varying pressure, examining the surface, middle, and deep layers of the breast. If an unusual lump is identified, a doctor can provide counseling on the next step.


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Post 3

I want to encourage women to learn how to perform self breast exams. I never really took this very seriously until two women in my family were diagnosed with breast cancer.

I always figured I would wait until my gynecologist exam and have my breast exam done. This is something that is very simple to do and does not take much time at all.

They don't recommend mammograms until women are around 40 years old, but self breast exams should begin even as young as a teenager.

Post 2

There is a television commercial that comes on the first day of every month in our area, reminding women to do their self breast examination.

This is a good reminder since this is something that is so easy to forget to do. If you are like me, I learn better by watching something being done than being told how to do it. There are many good videos online from reputable websites that show how to perform your examination.

The most important thing is to get in the habit of doing this on a regular basis, so you can become aware of any changes. Most women only have a mammogram done once a year, and it is better to be checking much more often than that.

Post 1

Once you feel comfortable giving yourself a breast exam, you will be able to feel confident about it and will be able to detect changes in your breasts. At first, a breast self examination can feel quite awkward, but you will soon become familiar with what you are looking for.

One of the easiest times to do this is while you are in the shower. It only takes a couple of minutes and you have the privacy you need.

It is also a good idea to get in the habit of checking your breasts at different times of the month. Your breast tissue can change depending on where you are in your cycle, so if you are aware of this it can help when you are doing your exam.

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