How To Do a Breast Self-Exam

self-care Feb 28, 2020

Breast Self-Exams

 Most breast cancer is found by breast self-exams! 

If you do your breast exam regularly, you get to know the natural topography of your breasts, and therefore it becomes easier to spot if there is an anomaly.  I do my own self-exams on average every few weeks, it takes about 5 minutes and can be done in a few different ways. 

Below we are outlining the proper protocol for a thorough breast self-exam, but first we will start with some common questions people have that gives you some useful background information. 


Common questions for breast self-exam:

How often should I do a breast self-exam?

Breast exams can be done daily, weekly or monthly and can take between 3 - 10 minutes, depending on how thorough you want to be.


What am I feeling for?

Hard lumps that are anomalous to your regular breast tissue.  They may feel like a small pea or bean, all the way up to a hard ping-pong ball size or more.  Any hard lumps should be assessed by your doctor. 


How do I know the difference between cysts, fibrous breasts and cancer?

There are always exceptions but generally speaking cysts are more round and moveable.  Fibrous breasts may feel ropey, bumpy, thick, dense or grainy.  Cancer tumours may feel hard, embedded in the surrounding tissue and often painless.


Which are the best regions to examine? 

The entire large area that breast tissue can grow:
  1. Collarbone down to underside crease of your breast
  2. Centre of chest to armpit
  3. All around the globe of your breast, both superficial and deep layers.


How do I use my hands most effectively?

1. Use your fingertips, which are very sensitive and able to feel small specific areas.

2. Vary your pressure to use both light and deep pressure to assess your superficial and deep breast tissue.  Some tumours grow next to the chest wall and could be missed if you only use light pressure.

3. Move your fingertips in small circles about the size of a dime, and spiral outwards from your nipple to the outer reaches of your breast tissue.



How to do a breast self-exam


There are 3 main positions in which to do your breast exam.  You may choose to do 1, 2, or all 3 if you want to be super thorough!  


Position 1: Standing in the shower

This is handy because you are already naked! Start with putting one arm overhead to open up the whole breast and armpit area.  With your other hand make methodical mini-circles, spiralling outward from your nipple to centre of chest, armpit and collarbone.   

Vary your pressure from light to deep to get all the layers of your breast tissue from the surface down to the chest wall. 

Do both sides.


Position 2: Standing in front of a mirror

*Ahem, Ladies! We are not looking for a critique of your breasts here, and how you wish they were the same shape as when you were 18!  Changes in shape happen with time and breast feeding, plus mosts breasts are not perfectly symmetrical.  Just because we are standing in front a mirror is not licence to start criticizing ourselves! 

 Ok whew, now that we've got THAT bullet out of the way, let's get on to the good stuff 😂

In the mirror, we are looking for alterations in contours of our breasts, such as puckering or dimpling.  Look at your breasts standing full upright, and also leaning forward so your breasts hang.  

We are also looking for a change in skin texture, where it might look rougher like an orange peel, or unusual discharge from your nipples


Position 3: Lying down

Like when in the shower, we put one hand overhead to open up the whole breast area (you can put a pillow under your arm for added support if your have mobility issues).  With the opposite hand, move your fingertips in mini-circles, spiralling outward from your nipple to armpit, collarbone and centre of chest, so the whole breast region is examined.  

Vary your pressure from superficial to deep so you get all layers of your breasts 

Do both sides. 


Things to think about:

1. Finger sensitivity varies and can be cultivated in everyone with regular practice. The more you do your breast self-exams, the more sensitive your fingers will be come and it will be easier to detect any anomalies.

2. Be sure to communicate with your doctor if you find any anomalies or lumps in your breasts.  They will send you for further testing if they think there is something that needs further investigation.  Remember, not all lumps are cancerous, so just because you find something unusual, doesn't mean you have cancer.  


Aaaaaand finally.....Most breast cancer is found through breast self-exams!  

Given that mammograms and thermograms usually happen every 12 - 24 months (if you have not previously been diagnosed with breast cancer or on a high-watch list) your self-exams are a lot more frequent, which increases your chances of detecting breast changes earlier and bringing attention to problem areas.   

Theoretically, you know your body best.  Knowing your breasts is an important part of self-care, so start today doing regular self-exams so you get to know what is normal FOR YOU! 



Previous post: I'm too busy for self-care, but I can fit this one in!

Discover Our Latest Professional Training