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Self Breast Exam: Step by Step

A self-breast exam provides you with a chance to discover if you might have a problem with one or both breasts that needs further examination. These exams are an important part of detecting possible signs of breast cancer as early as possible, which can significantly improve your chance of having successful treatment. Learn more about these exams, including how to do them, what to watch for and how often you should do them.

Steps for Self-Breast Exams

You should start off your self-breast exam by standing in front of a mirror. When you’re ready, do the following steps:

  • Keep your shoulders straight while placing your hands on your hips. Look for changes in the shape, coloring or size of your breasts. Your breasts should be their usual size, shape and coloring without noticeable distortions.
  • Lift your arms over your head, and look for the same signs as the first step. You should also check to see if you have any discharge coming out of one or both of your nipples.
  • Lie down, then feel your breasts with your finger pads. You should move your fingers in a circular motion over your breasts. Keep in mind that you should be checking your entire breast.
  • Stand or sit up, then use your finger pads to check both of your breasts again. You might find it helpful to do this in the shower, since it’s easier to move your fingers around on wet or damp skin.

Signs to Watch For

You should watch for any potential signs of problems with one or both breasts. These include the following:

  • Changes in size, color or shape
  • Discharge from your nipples that’s milky, bloody or clear
  • Puckering or dimpling
  • Inverted nipple or a nipple that’s in a different position
  • Hard knots, lumps or bumps in any part of your breast tissue
  • Redness or swelling

What to Do About Breast Problems

If you notice any problems with your breasts while doing a self-breast exam, you should make an appointment with your gynecologist or doctor. During this appointment, your doctor will examine your breasts and recommend any imaging tests that are needed. This generally involves having a mammogram done. Mammograms provide doctors with  X-ray images of your breast tissue, which can show whether or not there are tumors present. If tumors are found, your doctor will have additional testing done, such as a biopsy, to check if they are cancerous or noncancerous. Keep in mind that in many cases, lumps and bumps turn out to be benign cysts or other noncancerous growths. However, if it is breast cancer, early detection improves treatment outcomes.

How Often to Do a Self-Breast Exam

You should do a self-breast exam on a monthly basis. Ideally, this should take place several days after you’ve had your period. Before, during or right after your period, your breasts are more likely to be swollen or sore. Waiting until several days have passed makes it easier to detect changes in your breasts that might need to be checked by your doctor. 

If you need a mammography, please contact Neighborhood Radiology Services to schedule one. We offer convenient and affordable imaging services in the Greater New York Metropolitan Area.

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