Women's Health Institute


How to perform a breast self-exam

With February being designated self-check month, we thought we’d to share some useful information on how to perform a breast self-exam at home. Below you’ll learn how often you should perform an exam, the best positions for doing a self-exam, what to do if you notice a change and more!

How often should you perform an exam?

We recommend that you perform a breast self-exam regularly, at least once a month. While mammograms are used to help detect cancer before you can feel a lump, breast self-exams help you to familiarize yourself with how your breasts look and feel so that you can reach out to your ObGyn if you notice any changes.

How do you perform a breast self-exam?

There are three suggested positions for checking your breasts during a self-exam: Lying down, standing and in the shower.

1. Lying Down

When you lie down, your breast tissue will spread out evenly along your chest. Use the pads of your fingers on your left hand to gently move in small circular motions over your right breast, being sure to cover your entire breast and armpit area. We recommend using a firm, smooth touch when doing the circular motions, and then moving on to the nipple, squeezing it to check for any discharge or lumps around the areola. Next, repeat these steps for your left breast.

2. Standing

For the standing part of the self-exam, you’ll want to inspect your breast with your arms by your side as well as with your arms raised over your head. When examining your breast, look for any changes in the shape, coloring or size of your breast (with a particular focus on swelling). Also, don’t forget to check your nipples for any changes. During the exam, you want to look for any dimpling, puckering, or overall changes, particularly if it’s only showing on one breast and not both.

3. In the Shower

Finally, many women find that the easiest way to perform a breast self-exam and notice changes is when their skin is wet or slippery, which is why we also recommend completing the motions listed above while in the shower. Be sure to cover your entire breast, and perform the circular motions as mentioned earlier!

If you are more of a visual learner, BreastCancer.org offers a step-by-step guide supplemented with photos to help you through the process of performing a breast self-exam.

What should you do if you find a lump or notice a change?

Don’t panic if you find a lump. Approximately 8 out of 10 lumps are not cancerous. We recommend that you make an appointment with your OBGYN for a follow-up as soon as you notice any changes in your breasts.