Breast Self-Exam


Performing breast self-exams on a regular basis can help detect breast abnormalities at an early stage. Adult females (ages 20 and older) should perform breast self-exams (BSE) at least once per month. Regularly performing breast exams can help you become familiar with the look and feel of your breasts so that you can more easily notice and report any changes to your healthcare provider.  Performing a breast self-exam is important because it is an easy, free method that can lead to the early detection and treatment of breast cancer.1 Forty percent of females who are diagnosed with breast cancer are those who detect abnormalities by way of breast self-exams.2

A person holding their breasts.

Whether or not you perform breast self-exams, it is important to receive clinical breastexams from your healthcare provider during annual gynecological visits.3 Females over 40 years of age should also get a mammogram once every two years. A mammogram is an x-ray designed to detect cancer in the breast tissue of females who show no visible signs or symptoms of breast cancer.

Females at high risk for breast cancer are advised to get a mammogram and MRI every year. Females are deemed “high risk” if they have a family history of breast cancer and have a 20% or greater risk of getting breast cancer based on this family history.3

It is important to understand the steps involved in a breast self-exam in order to properlyperform one. It is best to examine your breasts when they are not tender or swollen. This means a breast exam should not be performed during a period or after a chest workout. Performing a breast self-exam while in the shower or while lying down work well because these positions allow examination of breast tissue while the tissue is in its most relaxed state.

Follow these steps to perform a breast self-exam:

  1. Start in front of a mirror so that you can see your breasts as they naturally sit.
  2. Remove any clothing above the waist. Look at your breasts in the mirror with your arms on relaxed at your sides. This position helps to push out the breast tissue and exaggerate any irregularities.2
  3. Look for any changes in breast size, shape, and color, including the following:
  • Dimpling, puckering, or bulging of the skin
  • Change in nipple position
  • Redness, soreness, rash, or swelling
  • Watery, milky, or bloody discharge from the nipples
  1. Raise your arms and repeat the steps on both sides. Take note of any irregularities.
  2. Lay down on your back on a flat surface. This allows the breast tissue to distribute evenly across the chest.2
  3. Place a pillow underneath your right shoulder and let your right arm fall above yourhead.
  4. Carefully examine your entire right breast with your left-hand fingers. Gently squeeze the nipple to check if there is any discharge. Palpate into the armpit area, keep your fingers together, and move your finger pads in dime-sized circular motions with a firm touch over the entire surface of the breast.2
  5. Repeat this process on your left side.

Follow these steps to perform an exam in the shower:

A person sitting in a bathtub.
  1. Place your right hand behind your head.
  2. Use your left-hand fingers to palpate the right breast tissue in circular motions
  3. Start at the armpit and move in to the center of the breast.
  4. Note any lumps, knots, or hardening of the tissue.2
  5. Repeat this process on your left side.

Females with breast implants as well as females who are pregnant or breastfeeding should also perform breast self-exams.1

If any lumps or irregularities are found, it is important to contact your health provider as soon as possible. Although the majority of irregularities detected during breast self-exams are usually benign, breast self-exams can help detect any signs of breast-cancer at an early stage. The key to a successful treatment is early detection.4


  1. “Breast Awareness and Self-Exam.” American Cancer Society. N.p., 28 Jan. 2014.
  2.  “Breast Self-Exam.” National Breast Cancer Foundation. N.p., 26 Feb. 2016.
  3. Zuckerman, Diana and Anna E. Mazzucco, “When Should Women Start Regular Mammograms? 40? 50? and How Often Is ‘Regular.’” Cancer Prevention and Treatment Fund.
  4. “How to Do a Breast Self-Exam: The Five Steps.” N.p., 19 Feb. 2018.

Last Updated: 15 May 2018.