What Are Breast Self-Examinations?

A key factor for treating various health issues, including the most serious ones, is prevention. In this sense, breast self-examinations can be a great tool in detecting problems in this part of a woman's body.
What Are Breast Self-Examinations?

Last update: 30 January, 2019

Women perform breast self-examinations by themselves, through touch. Their main objective is to detect abnormalities that can be a sign of different issues, such as breast cancer.

The technique is simple and practical, but it’s still extremely important when it comes to preventing illnesses. Breast self-examinations don’t require any special equipment, but performing them correctly does require a certain amount of knowledge.

The fact that these exams are an effective prevention technique doesn’t mean they take the place of regular doctor’s visits.

Of course, they serve as a good complement and an excellent tool for periodical control. However, the analysis that doctors perform to detect problems are much more efficient.

When should women perform breast self-examinations?

Prevention is never a bad idea, especially when all it requires is a bit of time and observation. Therefore, specialists recommend that all women over the age of 20 practice this technique. 

The recommended frequency is once a month. Women who are pregnant or going through menopause should also perform self breast-examinations.

One useful tip is to choose a specific day each month so you don’t forget. Many women choose to perform their breast self-exam between 5 and 10 days after their period. This is when breasts are the least sensitive and swollen.

What Are Breast Self-Examinations?

Steps of breast self-examinations

Breastcancer.org – one of the many organizations dedicated to researching and fighting against breast cancer – recommends following the 5 steps below when performing breast self-examinations:

  1. Position yourself in front of a mirror with your muscles relaxed and your arms by your side. While in this position, evaluate the size, shape and color of your breasts. Make sure there are no deformations – such as dimples, wrinkles or lumps – and that there are no skin irritations.
  2. With your arms raised and joined above your head, repeat the above observations. Furthermore, compare one breast with the other and observe the appearance and outline of your armpits.
  3. Make sure that no liquid comes out of your nipples, both when you’re standing in front of the mirror or any other time of day. Examples of fluids include blood or any other transparent, milky or yellowy secretions.
  4. Third, you must follow certain self-exploration techniques which we’ll describe more in detail below.
  5. Finally, palpate your breasts while standing. Preferably, you should do this when your skin is wet and, therefore, slippery. Therefore, the shower is the perfect spot.

“The fact that these exams are an effective prevention technique doesn’t mean they take the place of regular doctor’s visits.”

Breast self-examination techniques

In the fourth point above, we talked about specific movements to carry out when doing this step. Specifically, we were referring to certain actions that all women must carry out as part of this control.

First, you must lie down face up and palpate each breast with the opposite hand. In other words, you should examine your left breast with your right hand, and vice versa.

When doing so, many women place a pillow under their shoulder and place their free hand behind their neck.

Your movement should be firm and circular, but you shouldn’t apply pressure. Use your fingertips, keeping your fingers straight and together.

At the same time, start at the top of your breasts and work downwards – beginning at your collarbone and armpit.

Next, move on to the examination of your nipples. Be sure not to leave any area untouched. That’s why it’s best to follow a predetermined pattern. When palpating deep tissue, you’ll need to apply firm pressure. You should be able to feel your rib cage.

What Are Breast Self-Examinations?

What to do if you find any abnormality?

Discovering something strange with your breasts isn’t necessarily a sign of serious illnessTherefore, the first thing you should do is stay calm. Then, plan for a visit to your doctor as soon as possible and talk to him or her about what you’ve observed.

Most alterations that can be found in the breasts are benign. Don’t get ahead of yourself or worry about a non-existent diagnosis.

Rather, take action. Remember that prevention and early intervention often make all the difference.

In fact, certain entities – such as the American Cancer Society – claim that breast self-examinations often lead to unnecessary biopsies. Therefore, these exams are a subject of debate. However, they’re still a valid tool, according to many experts.

Furthermore, self breast-examinations help women become more aware of the importance of control and prevention .

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.