Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How to Administer Self-exams


Breast Cancer Self-Exams
©2007 Publications International, Ltd. Early detection of breast cancer improves your chances of survival.

Breast cancers are more treatable when they are detected in early stages. For this reason, have professional breast exams and mammograms as advised by your doctor. Follow your doctor's advice for breast self-examinations, too. 

If you are still menstruating, the ideal time to do a breast self-examination is within three days after your period has ended. For postmenopausal women, do it the same day each month. Conducting regular breast self-examinations will help you become familiar with the normal landscape of your breasts. In this way, any unusual lumps or growths that surface will be more obvious.

A thorough breast self-examination is done in three parts.

In the shower:

  1. Use your left hand to examine your right breast, and vice-versa.
  2. Start by pressing the pads of your middle fingers, held flat, along the collarbone and each area of your breast, including the tissue around the nipple and the underarm area. Work your way around in a circular, up-and-down, or wedge pattern from the outside of the breast inward toward the nipple.
  3. Carefully feel for lumps, knots, or changes in skin texture.

In front of a mirror:

  1. Stand, topless, with your hands at your sides and note the natural contour of your breasts.
  2. Raise your arms above your head and look for changes in the size, shape, and contour of your breasts. Also, note any dimpling, puckering, or changes in skin texture.
  3. Squeeze each nipple gently and look for nonmilky discharge (if you have given birth or nursed a baby within the last year, some clear or milky discharge is probably normal).

Lying down: 

  1. Lie down flat on your back with one arm raised over your head; it gives you one more angle and helps ensure a thorough examination. 
  2. Follow the same procedure for examining your breast in the shower.

Many factors work together to improve (or damage) your health and longevity. Visit these links to learn more about staying healthy and avoiding illness.

  • Your family history and your lifestyle are just a few of the variables that affect your overall health. Learn more in How to Assess Your Health.
  • The word "cancer" strikes fear in anyone's heart -- the collection of diseases we know as cancer is the second-largest cause of death in the United States. Learn more in How Cancer Works.
  • A new vaccine is now available to protect against cervical cancer, the second-most common type of cancer in American women. Read How the Cervical Cancer Vaccine Works to learn more.

Brianna Politzer is a freelance writer specializing in health, fitness, nutrition, and technology. She has contributed to many consumer publications, including The Home Remedies Handbook, Women's Home Remedies Health Guide, and The Medical Book of Health Hints and Tips.  This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.


More to Explore