How to check yourself for breast cancer
Updated: Oct 13, 2022
Physical examinations are a regular part of a healthy lifestyle, and when it comes to screening for breast cancer, there are best practices that you can use to make sure you’re healthy. While going to the doctor for an annual mammogram is a must when you reach your 40’s, a Breast Self-Exam (BSE) is something that you can easily work into your wellness routine. In fact, regularly examining your breasts on your own can be an important way to find breast cancer early.
This may sound complicated, but really requires no more commitment than stretching or your regular skin-care routine. Here are five easy steps to perform a BSE in the privacy of your own home. As a woman, your health should always be a top priority, and we’re here to help!
Look at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips
What positive signs you need to look out for:
Breasts that are their usual size, shape, and color
Breasts that are evenly shaped without visible distortion or swelling
Signs that you need to see a doctor:
Dimpling, puckering, or bulging of the skin
A nipple that has changed position or an inverted nipple (pushed inward instead of out)
Redness, soreness, rash, or swelling
Raise your arms and look for the same changes in step 1
While you’re at the mirror, look for any signs of fluid coming out of one or both nipples (this could be a watery, milky, or yellow fluid, or blood)
Next, feel your breasts while lying on your back, using your right hand to feel your left breast and then your left hand to feel your right breast. Using a firm, smooth touch with the first few finger pads of your hand, keep the fingers flat and together. Use a circular motion, about the size of a quarter. Cover the entire breast from top to bottom, side to side — from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen, and from your armpit to your cleavage. Follow a pattern to be sure that you cover the whole breast. This up-and-down approach works best for most women. For the skin and tissue just beneath, use light pressure; use medium pressure for tissue in the middle of your breasts; use firm pressure for the deep tissue in the back. When you've reached the deep tissue, you should be able to feel down to your ribcage
Finally, feel your breasts while you are standing or sitting. Many women find that the easiest way to feel their breasts is when their skin is wet and slippery, so they like to do this step in the shower. Check your entire breast using the same hand movements described in step 4.
If you notice a lump of change
While you don’t necessarily need to panic if you feel a lump in your breast, speaking to a medical professional should be a top priority if you feel a lump or see a worrisome change. While most breast lumps turn out to be benign, you never want to make that assumption on your own without the second opinion of an expert. Both an ultrasound and a mammogram are typically recommended to evaluate a lump in women who are over age 30 and not pregnant or breastfeeding. If further testing is needed, your doctor may recommend additional imaging with MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), MBI (molecular breast imaging), and/or a biopsy. You may also be referred to a breast specialist for further evaluation.
Talk to a medical professional
Are you experiencing symptoms or do you have medical concerns, but you aren’t sure what they mean or how serious they are? You don’t have to take time out of your routine and spend the afternoon sitting in the waiting room at the clinic in order to get answers. Instead, you can speak to a licensed medical professional with a convenient telehealth visit from home.
First, you will answer some questions that enable the medical provider to determine if a test needs to be ordered at your local pharmacy. Based on your symptoms, concerns, and the findings from any tests you took, you will receive a diagnosis and a course of treatment that may include a prescription—all without having to go to the doctor’s office.