Self breast exams are an important way to build breast self-awareness and advocate for your own health. While you might be familiar with self-breast exams, it is critical to perform them correctly and regularly to determine if there are any changes to the look and feel of your breasts. It should be a common practice amongst women and it is important to know how to properly perform one.

Mothers have specific health needs that require an empathetic health care provider, as they transition through the defining stages of their life, from puberty through motherhood and into menopause. As a board-certified OB-GYN physician and the director of OB-GYN services at Viva Eve, it’s important to me to play a direct role in advancing the healthcare of all women, which is all too often a secondary priority in our society.

What is a self-breast exam?

Self-breast exams are inspections of the breasts to increase awareness of lumps or abnormalities that could be cause for concern. Routine, at-home self-breast exams can help you be more cognizant of your own body and the changes that occur that you may want to report to your doctors. 

While this should not take the place of breast-cancer screening from a medical provider, it is good practice to become familiar with potential abnormalities and lumps on your own.

How to do a self breast exam

There are two components to a breast exam: visual and manual. Below are step-by-step instructions on how to do a visual and manual exam to ensure that the look and feel of your breast is not abnormal.

How to perform a visual breast self exam

  1. Begin by standing in front of a mirror without a shirt or bra and keep your arms by your side
  2. First, look for any dimpling, puckering or any changes in the size, shape or symmetry of the breast
  3. Check for inverted or retracted nipples, or nipple discharge 
  4. Raise your arms over your head with your palms pressed together and inspect the appearance of your breasts
  5. Press your arms down on your hips and inspect the appearance of your breasts
  6. Lift your breasts to examine if the bottom of the breasts are symmetrical

How to perform a manual breast exam

  1. Lie down on a flat surface. This flattens out the breast tissue and makes it easier to feel any abnormalities
  2. Rather than using the tips of your fingers, use the pads. This area of your finger has greater sensitivity and will allow you to notice abnormalities more easily
  3. Use your 3 middle fingers and follow a concentric circle pattern, radiating outward from the nipple to the outer breast borders to ensure you don’t miss any areas
  4. Circular motions with light, medium and deep pressure will allow you to feel all the different layers of breast tissue

What to look out for and when to reach out to your doctor

If you feel any abnormal lumps or tissue, there is no reason to immediately panic. Lumps or changes in breast tissue can often occur due to changes in one’s menstrual cycle, age and various other reasons. However, there are some symptoms that may be worth reaching out to your doctor for a professional assessment. 

Concerning symptoms may include:

  • Redness, swelling or pain
  • A hard lump near your underarm
  • Dimples, puckers or ridges on the skin 
  • A recent change in the nipple to being inverted if it was previously protruding outward
  • Itching, scales, sores or rashes on the skin of the breast
  • Bloody nipple discharge

A note from Dr. Gopal

Building breast self-awareness by performing self breast exams regularly will allow you to know what is normal for you. Each woman’s breasts are different, and if you know what your breasts generally look and feel like, you will be able to quickly spot variations from what is normal. Early detection is key when it comes to breast cancer screening and surveillance.

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