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Breast Self-Exam (BSE)

Your breasts change throughout your life. Monthly breast self-exams can help you learn what is normal for you. That way, you are more likely to notice any unusual changes. Try to check your breasts after your menstrual period each month when your breasts are less tender and swollen. If you don’t have periods, aim for the first of each month.

It has not been shown that BSEs alone can accurately determine the presence of breast cancer. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has found evidence that suggests BSEs do not lower the risk for death from breast cancer. Therefore, if you choose to do BSE, it should not be used in place of, but in addition to, a clinical breast exam (performed by a healthcare provider every 3 years for women in their 20s and 30s, and every year for women ages 40 and older) and mammography.

Image of shirtless woman demonstrating how to hold your arms above your head for self exam.

Look for changes

Look in the mirror with your hands at your sides. Then raise your arms. Do you see any flattening, bulging, or puckering on your breasts? Next, raise your arms, then put your hands on your hips. Look for changes in your breast movement or shape as you move your arms.

Arrows showing up-and-down pattern to follow during self breast exam

Feel for changes

Lie on your side with a pillow under your right shoulder. Put your right arm above your head. (You can also do this exam in the shower with soapy hands):

  • Feel your right breast with your left hand.

  • Use an up-and-down pattern. Use the same pattern each month.

  • Use the pads of your three middle fingers (index finger, middle finger, and ring finger). Move over the breast in small circles (the size of a dime).

  • Feel for lumps or thickening.

  • Repeat on your left side.

  • Note any discharge from your nipple.


When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider if you find any of the following:

  • New lumps or thickening

  • Puckering of the skin or other changes

  • Spontaneous or bloody discharge from the nipple

Online Medical Reviewer: Foster, Sara, RN, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Horowitz, Diane, MD
Last Review Date: 8/10/2015
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