Here’s how to conduct a breast self-exam

Updated Jun 29, 2016

Early detection of breast cancer saves lives, and regular screenings are meant to help find breast cancer before symptoms appear. Regular breast self-exams can help women learn about what is normal for their body and detect any changes, so they can inform their physician.

The National Breast Cancer Foundation recommends women do a breast self-exam at least once a month. These self-exams should be performed in the shower, in front of a mirror or lying down.

To conduct a self-exam in the shower, the foundation says:

“Using the pads of your fingers, move around your entire breast in a circular pattern moving from the outside to the center, checking the entire breast and armpit area. Check both breasts each month feeling for any lump, thickening, or hardened knot. Notice any changes and get lumps evaluated by your healthcare provider.”

To conduct a self-exam in front of a mirror, the foundation says:

“Visually inspect your breasts with your arms at your sides. Next, raise your arms high overhead. Look for any changes in the contour, any swelling, or dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples. Next, rest your palms on your hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles. Left and right breasts will not exactly match – few women’s breasts do, so look for any dimpling, puckering, or changes, particularly on one side.”

To conduct a self-exam lying down, the foundation says:

“When lying down, the breast tissue spreads out evenly along the chest wall. Place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently in small circular motions covering the entire breast area and armpit. Use light, medium, and firm pressure. Squeeze the nipple; check for discharge and lumps. Repeat these steps for your left breast.”