Breast Self-Exam

What’s Normal for You?

The signs of breast cancer are not the same for all women. It is important to know how your breasts normally look and feel. Many women have a pattern of lumpiness in their breasts, which is normal. But if you feel or see any change in your breasts or underarms, see your health care provider right away.

Below is information to increase your breast self-awareness, signs not to ignore and the steps to perform a breast self-exam.

Breast Self-Exam Card (English)
Breast Self-Exam Card (Spanish)

Breast Self-Awareness

1. Know Your Risk

  • Talk to your family to learn about your family health history
  • Talk to your health care provider about your personal risk of breast cancer

2. Get Screened

  • Ask your health care provider which screening tests are right for you if you are at a higher risk
  • Have a mammogram every year starting at age 40 if you are at average risk
  • Have a clinical breast exam every year starting at age 20

3. Know What is Normal For You

  • See your health care provider right away if you notice any of these breast changes:
    • Lumps, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
    • Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
    • Change in the size or shape of the breast
    • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
    • Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
    • Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
    • Nipple discharge that starts suddenly, especially with bloody nipple discharge
    • New pain in one spot that does not go away

Steps to Breast Self-Exam (BSE)

Breast Self-Exam (BSE) is a tool that may help you learn what is normal for you. BSE includes looking at and feeling your breasts. Don’t hesitate to ask your health care provider if you need help in how to effectively do your breast self-exams. If you notice any changes in your breasts, be sure to see your health care provider right away.

Step 1: Look for Changes

  • In front of the mirror:
    • Hold your arms at your side
    • Hold your arms over your head
    • Press your hands on your hips and tighten your chest muscles
    • Bend forward with your hands on your hips

Step 2: Feel for Changes

  • Lying down:
    • Lie down on your back with a pillow under your right shoulder
    • Use the pads of the three middle fingers on your left hand to check your right breast
    • Press using light, medium and firm pressure in a circle without lifting your fingers off the skin
    • Follow an up and down pattern
    • Feel for changes in your breast, above and below your collarbone and in your armpit
    • Repeat on your left breast using your right hand
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