Coordinated Health

How to Do a Breast Self-Exam to Check for Lumps and Other Changes

How to Do a Breast Self-Exam to Check for Lumps and Other Changes

By:    October 9, 2018

When’s the last time you did a breast self-exam?

Your gynecologist probably reminds you to do them monthly when you have your annual exam, but if you’re like most people it probably slips to the back of your mind once you leave the office.

Many doctors recommend doing breast self-exams every month so that you can get familiar with your breasts and report changes right away. There are many conditions that can cause changes in the breasts, including cancer.

Luckily, doing a breast self-exam is simple when you know what to look and feel for. Here’s what you need to know.

Timing Is Important

The best time to do a breast exam is about a week after the start of your period, according to Dr. Cara Guilfoyle, breast surgeon at Coordinated Health. That’s because most women experience swelling and tenderness leading up to and during the first few days of their periods, and it’s best to do your monthly check when those hormonal changes aren’t in play. If you no longer get a period, do your exam on the first day of the month, or another day that’s easy for you to remember.

What to Look For

First, visually examine your breasts in the mirror.

Look for:

  • Dimpling
  • Puckering
  • Swelling in the breast
  • Rashes around the nipple
  • Nipple discharge (but don’t squeeze!)
  • Whether the nipples are pointing in any different direction than usual
  • Whether the nipples are retracted (pushed inward)

Next, feel your breast using the pads of your first three fingers. Feel for lumps by pressing gently but firmly, moving in a circular pattern about the size of a quarter. Cover all of your breast tissue from top to bottom and side to side, all the way to the armpit. You can do this standing, sitting, or laying down.

What to Do If Something Looks or Feels Off

If you feel a lump, or something looks wrong to you, don’t ignore it. You’ll want to get it looked at within a week. Dr. Guilfoyle says you should start with your gynecologist or primary care physician. They can refer you to a breast specialist like her if needed.

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