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Breast Self Exam

Breast self exam is one of the most important ways to detect breast cancer early enough for treatment to be effective. Breast cancer kills approximately 40,000 women a year in the United States. All women should know how to perform a breast self exam.

Step One

Breast self exam should be done approximately 5 days after the start of your period because there is less hormonal influence at this time on your breast tissue. Use a calendar to keep track of when you do your breast self exams.

Step Two

Observe your breasts standing in front of a mirror. Look at each breast individually and then compare your breasts to each other. Look for visible lumps, dimpling, irregular shape, swelling, and nipple retraction, as well as rashes or any other abnormalities. Observe your breasts in the following positions.

  • Observe your breasts with your arms relaxed and by your sides.
  • Observe your breasts with your arms raised over your head.
  • Observe your breasts with your arms pressed on your hips leaning forward so that your chest muscles are flexed. (This position makes it easier to see any dimpling that may occur.)

Step Three

In a standing or sitting position, raise your right arm above your head. Use the pads of your finger tips on your left hand to feel around your right breast. Press firmly enough to feel for any lumps, knots, or hardening areas. Go around your breast in a circular motion in a clockwise manner. Start on the outer most part of your breast and move inward making sure to feel around the underarm area. Some women find this is easiest to do in the shower. Repeat this with your left arm above your head and use your right arm to feel around your left breast.

Step Four

Lying down with a pillow under your head, put your right arm under your head. Use the pads of your finger tips on your left hand to feel around your right breast. Use the same pattern you used above to feel for any irregularities. Repeat with your left arm behind your head.

Step Five

Feel around your areola and nipple. Squeeze gently to check for any discharge.

Step 6

Report any concerns to your health care provider. Dimpling, lumps, nipple discharge, hardening areas, irregular shape, swelling, and nipple retraction, or any other abnormalities may be a sign of breast cancer.

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