How Do I Give Myself a Breast Exam?

Only lung cancer deaths surpass breast cancer deaths in American women. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 30% of the cancers women develop will be breast cancer. In 2022, that means 287,850 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and 43,250 will die from it.

Those are sobering statistics, and we want to help you avoid becoming one of them.

At Redwood Family Health Center in McKinney and Farmers Ranch, Texas, our team of experienced family physicians, Dr. Venkata Vallury and Dr. Visalakshi Vallury, can help you maintain optimal breast health and detect any concerning issues. 

As part of our comprehensive well-women annual exams, we help you understand your individual risk for breast cancer, schedule mammograms that can detect signs of abnormal tissues, and teach you how to perform breast self-exams at home. Here’s an overview to get you started.

What is a breast self-exam?

A breast self-exam (BSE) is a simple routine you do at home to look and feel for abnormalities in your breast tissue. The more familiar you are with your unique breast tissue, the more apt you are to detect a change. That’s why we recommend regular BSEs. 

It’s important to note that you can’t rely on a single test or exam to detect breast cancer. BSEs are only one tool in your arsenal — and not even the most effective one. But, in combination with other screening tools, such as professional breast exams and mammograms, you increase your chances of catching breast cancer early.

How to do a breast self-exam

Performing a BSE is simple and painless. In the privacy of your own home, you inspect your breasts visually and manually. Here’s how to do it.

Take a look

Stand in front of a mirror and get a good look at your breasts. Look at them straight on and from each side. Next, put your hands on your hips, hold your shoulders back, and look at your breast again. Finally, take one more look with your arms raised.

You’re looking for any abnormalities in their size, color, shape, and texture. Abnormalities include:

If you notice any of these signs, schedule an appointment at Redwood Family Health Center to get an expert opinion. 

Don’t panic. These are NOT signs that you have cancer — they’re signs we need to investigate a little further.

Lie down

The next step in your BSE is to lie down with one arm behind your head. Use the opposite hand to feel your breast tissue with the pads of your fingertips. Keep your fingers close together and flat, and press your breasts using a circular motion about the diameter of a quarter. 

Do this over your entire breast, including the edges up to your collarbone and into your armpit. Use varying amounts of pressure to feel the surface, middle, and deep tissues. Repeat the process with the other arm and the other breast. 

Take a shower

The last step is to feel your breasts while standing up. This is easy to do in the shower when your skin is slick. Follow the same movements you made while lying down.

Making breast self-exams part of your routine

The goal of BSEs is familiarity. If you’re new to BSEs, do one a few times during the first month, especially before, during, and after your period. Breast tissue tends to change slightly during menstruation, so get to know what’s normal for you.

Jotting notes down in a journal or a phone app can make it easy to remember and compare. 

Note: Not all lumps are bad. In fact, breast tissue contains glands that feel lumpy and grainy. Once you’re familiar with your unique breast tissue, you’ll know when something feels off.

If you find an abnormal-for-you lump, come see us. Chances are it’s simply a swollen gland or a benign tumor. We advise you about the appropriate next steps, which usually include diagnostic imaging and possibly a biopsy to test the tissue.

The good news is that there’s a 90% breast cancer survival rate when it’s caught and treated early — now, that’s a statistic worth celebrating. 

Call us or book an appointment online to schedule your well-woman exam and learn more about how to avoid breast cancer. 

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