Breast Cancer Awareness

Breast self-exam

Your breasts change throughout your life. Monthly breast self-exams can help you learn what is normal for you. That way, you are more likely to notice any unusual changes. Try to check your breasts after your menstrual period each month when your breasts are less tender and swollen. If you don't have periods, aim for the first of each month.

Look in the mirror with your hands at your sides. Then raise your arms. Do you see any flattening, bulging, or puckering on your breasts? Next, raise your arms, then put your hands on your hips. Look for changes in your breast movement or shape as you move your arms.

Lie on your side with a pillow under your right shoulder. Put your right arm above your head. You can also do this exam in the shower with soapy hands.

  • Feel your right breast with your left hand
  • Use an up-and-down pattern; be sure to use the same pattern each month
  • Use the pads of your three middle fingers (index finger, middle finger and ring finger); move over the breast in small circles (the size of a dime)
  • Feel for lumps or thickening
  • Repeat on your left side
  • Note any discharge from your nipple

Call your doctor if you find any of the following:

  • New lumps or thickening
  • Puckering of the skin or other changes
  • Spontaneous or bloody discharge from the nipple

Your yearly checkup should include a clinical breast exam. This exam may be done by a gynecologist, family doctor, nurse practitioner or a specially trained nurse. Yearly breast exams help to ensure that breast conditions are found early.

A health care professional knows the tests and follow-up care needed if a problem is found. Your clinical exam is also a great time to ask questions about your breast self-exam. You can find out whether you're doing the breast self-exam the right way. You may want to ask how pregnancy, breast implants, or breast reduction surgery affects the way you should examine your breasts.

If a clinical exam reveals a breast change, you may have other tests to find out more. These tests may include:

  • Mammography: Uses low-dose x-rays to create pictures of the breast.
  • Ultrasound: Uses sound waves to create a picture of the breast.
  • Biopsy: Removal of a small amount of breast tissue by needle or incision. The tissue is then examined under a microscope.

Starting at age 20, you should have a clinical breast exam every 1 to 3 years. After age 40, have a clinical breast exam each year. If you're at higher risk for breast cancer, you may need more frequent exams. Risk factors for breast cancer may include:

  • Being over 50 or postmenopausal
  • A family history of breast cancer
  • Having had no pregnancies or a first pregnancy after age 30
  • Obesity
  • Heavy alcohol use