What is a Breast Self-Exam?
A breast self-exam or BSE, is a visual and physical inspection of your own breast that any woman can and should do to look for changes and or problems with the breast. Every woman’s breasts are different so it is important to know the look and feel of your breast. Being familiar with your breasts will help you differentiate between any normal and abnormal findings during your self-exam. Breast self-exams are easy to do, can be done in minutes and in the comfort of your own home. They are usually performed while standing or lying down.
Breast are checked for any unusual distortions:
- nipple inversion
- nipple discharge
It’s important to remember that changes in the breast can be normal. Lumpy, bumpy breasts can also be normal. Not all lumps, bumps and changes in the breast will turn out to be breast cancer. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, even most biopsy results aren’t cancer. Breast changes happen for all kinds of reasons: menstrual cycles, birth control pills, pregnancy, aging and menopause. Routine breast self-examination is one of the best ways to detect a change in the breast. Get to know your breasts so you can identify what’s normal and what’s not.
How Often Do I Do A Breast Self-Exam?
Routine breast self-exams should be performed once a month by all women. Especially women in their 20s and 30s who are not undergoing regular mammography screenings. The best time to do a breast self-exam is approximately 3-7 days after the first day of your period. This is when the breasts are less tender and lumpy during your monthly cycle. A breast self-exam should not cause any discomfort. You should focus on doing the exams at the same time every month.
Women over the age of 40 are encouraged to have a mammogram yearly. A clinical breast examination should also be done annually by a nurse or doctor. For those women at a higher than normal risk, due to family history or other factors, more frequent screenings are necessary.
How To Perform A Breast Self-Exam?
Breast self-exams should be done several different ways. This is ensure you’re getting a full visual and physical inspection all of the breast tissue. When performing a breast self-exam it is helpful to follow certain patterns to ensure that all areas are getting inspected. For any pattern whether a circular motion or straight lines across the breast, it is best to have your fingers move in tiny circles. Moving fingers in an overlapping circular motion making sure that all parts of your breast are covered. Feel all the tissue from the collarbone down to the bra line, and from the arm pit to the breastbone. Be firm but gentle when examining the breasts as you don’t want to cause yourself pain, and examine each area with 3 levels of pressure. Start by using soft pressure to feel the tissue that is closest to the surface of the skin then move up to medium pressure to feel a little deeper and then firm pressure to feel the deepest tissues especially those near the breastbone and ribs. Then squeeze the nipple checking for any forms of discharge.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, FabFitFun has featured Dr. Cassileth demonstrating how to properly perform a breast self-exam. In this video you can watch and learn how easy it is to perform this life-saving exam from the comfort of your own home!
Most breasts have some lumps or thick tissues, if you feel any lump on one breast you can check your other breast for the same type of lump, if both breast have the same lump then your breast may be normal. If you have any doubts or concerns, consult a doctor about any lumps as soon as possible. Be more attentive to lumps that are harder than other parts of your breast. Be mindful of any lumps or spots that are unusual to your touch. Any changes in the lumps or breast should be checked out by a doctor.
First start by undressing from the waist up, placing your arms at your side or your hands on your hips and visual examining your breast in the mirror. check that both breast are their usual size, shape and color. Look for any unusual swelling or coloration, changes in the texture of the skin, changes in the nipples and lumps.
Next, while still in front of the mirror, place both hands on the back of your head and visually inspect your breast in the mirror again in this position.
Sitting or Standing
Start by raising your right arm up, and placing your hand on the back of your head. This help to provide tension to the chest wall. The breast goes from the armpit all the way to the breast base or the bra line. You need to check the whole breast from the armpit down to the bra line. With the left hand, using the pads of the 3 middle fingers, (index to ring finger) move around your entire breast in a circular pattern moving from the outside to the center, checking the entire breast and armpit area feeling for any lump, thickening, or hardened knot. Then do the same to with the other breast. Some women prefer to do this in the shower and it allows the fingers to slide easier across the breast tissue. You can also use a lotion to help with this if you do not want to do this in a shower.
When lying down the breast tissue spreads out evenly along the chest wall. Start by laying down, raising your right arm up above your head and placing a pillow under your shoulder. With your left hand, feel the entire breast and surrounding area, from the collar bone down to the bra line and from the armpit inward to the space between the two breasts. It is important to check these surrounding areas because breast cancer can be found in nearby lymph node tissue and under the arm. Feel for any lumps, thickening of breast tissue. Notice if a lump persists, worsens or more obvious over time. Repeat this process for the left breast, using your right hand.
Can I Rely On Breast Self-Exam Alone?
No, you can’t solely rely on breast self-exams. Breast self-exams are not recommended to replace conventional screening methods such as clinical exam and/or mammography. Mammography is able to detect tumors before they can be felt. Breast self-exams can help women know what is normal for them. Being familiar with the normal look and feel of the breast can alert the need for a visit to the doctor for breast cancer screening at our office.
Your healthcare provider will assess your risk and with this knowledge can order more frequent mammograms, along with MRI images and ultrasound. Early detection is the key to curing cancer, which is why we work to provide the most effective breast cancer screening available. If a tumor is discovered before it has moved to other areas of the breast or body, there is a much greater chance that it can be eradicated.