Breast Self-Exam

A breast self-exam is done to detect changes that could lead to breast cancer. To learn what is normal for your breasts and to find any problems, you should do a breast self-exam once a month.

Why Do Breast Self-Exams?
If breast cancer is found early, most women can be treated with success. That is why routine breast self-exams, mammography and checkups by your doctor are vital.

How to Do a Breast Self-Exam
The best time to do the breast self-exam is a few days after your period ends each month. It’s easier at this time because your breasts are less tender or swollen. There are two parts to a breast self-exam —looking and feeling.

In the first part of the exam, you are looking in the mirror for any changes.

In the second part of the exam, you are feeling for any changes. You can do this lying flat on your back, standing, or when you are taking a shower or bath. It often is easier to examine your breasts when they are smooth and wet with soap and water. It’s a good idea to examine your breasts both ways — lying down and standing.

Examine one breast at a time. Feel with the pads (not tips) of your three middle fingers.

Remember how your breasts feel each month. Mark any lumps or other changes on the diagram shown here. Show it to your doctor.

Signs of a Problem
If you notice any of these symptoms during your breast self-exam, call your doctor:

  1. A lump
  2. Swelling
  3. Skin irritation
  4. Dimpling
  5. Pain
  6. Nipple retraction (nipple turns in)
  7. Redness of nipple or breast skin
  8. Scaly nipple or breast skin
  9. Nipple discharge

Do the breast self-exam once a month. If you detect any signs of a problem, talk to your doctor.

This excerpt from ACOG’s Patient Education Pamphlet is provided for your information. It is not medical advice and should not be relied upon as a substitute for visiting your doctor. If you need medical care, have any questions, or wish to receive the full text of this Patient Education Pamphlet, please contact your obstetrician-gynecologist.

To ensure the information is current and accurate, ACOG titles are reviewed every 18 months.

Copyright © January 2001 The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists