Guide to Performing Breast Self-Exams

Breast self-exams are an essential part of maintaining breast health and detecting any potential abnormalities or changes. By performing regular self-exams, individuals can become familiar with their breast tissue’s normal texture and appearance, making it easier to identify any unusual changes that may warrant further medical attention. In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through the steps of performing a breast self-exam and provide essential information to empower you in taking control of your breast health.

Why Perform Breast Self-Exams?

Breast self-exams play a crucial role in early detection of breast cancer. While they cannot replace regular mammograms or clinical examinations, they serve as a valuable tool for women and men alike in identifying any noticeable changes in their breasts. Detecting breast cancer in its early stages significantly increases the chances of successful treatment and better overall outcomes.

Performing breast self-exams allows individuals to:

  1. Become familiar with their breast tissue: Regular self-exams help individuals understand the normal texture and appearance of their breasts. This familiarity enables them to identify any deviations or abnormalities more effectively.

  2. Detect changes early: Self-exams can help identify any noticeable changes in the breasts, such as lumps, swelling, or skin changes. Early detection is crucial for prompt medical attention and improved treatment outcomes.

  3. Take control of their breast health: By performing self-exams, individuals become active participants in their breast health. They can monitor changes and take necessary actions, such as seeking medical advice, if any concerns arise.

How Often Should You Perform Breast Self-Exams?

The frequency of breast self-exams can vary depending on individual circumstances. However, it is generally recommended to perform a self-exam once a month. Consistency is key in monitoring changes effectively. It is advisable to choose a consistent time in your menstrual cycle to conduct the examination. For post-menopausal individuals, selecting a specific day each month can help establish a routine.

Performing monthly self-exams allows for regular monitoring of breast health and increases the chances of detecting any changes early. It is important to note that self-exams should not replace regular screenings or clinical examinations recommended by healthcare professionals. These additional screenings, such as mammograms, provide a more comprehensive assessment of breast health.

Step-by-Step Guide to Performing Breast Self-Exams

Performing a breast self-exam involves a systematic approach that allows for thorough examination of the breast tissue. Follow these steps to ensure a comprehensive self-exam:

Step 1: Preparation

To perform a breast self-exam, find a quiet and comfortable space where you can focus without distractions. Stand undressed from the waist up in front of a mirror in a well-lit room. Keep your shoulders straight and your arms relaxed by your sides.

Step 2: Visual Examination

Begin by visually inspecting your breasts in the mirror. Note any changes in size, shape, or contour. Look for any visible lumps, swelling, dimpling, or skin changes such as redness or rash. Pay attention to any changes in the nipple or areola, including inversion, discharge, or scaling.

Step 3: Arm Elevation

Raise your arms above your head and observe your breasts’ appearance again. Look for any changes that may have been less noticeable in the previous position. This change in arm position allows for a different perspective and may reveal subtle changes or abnormalities.

Step 4: Manual Examination

Lie down on your back and place a pillow under your right shoulder. Using your left hand, apply gentle pressure to the breast tissue in a circular motion, moving from the outer edges towards the nipple. Repeat this process for the left breast using your right hand. This manual examination helps you feel for any lumps, thickening, or changes in breast tissue consistency.

Step 5: Vertical Strip Pattern

In a standing or sitting position, use the pads of your three middle fingers to apply gentle pressure in a vertical strip pattern. Start from the outer part of your breast and move towards the nipple. Cover the entire breast area, ensuring no part is left unexamined. This technique allows for a systematic examination of the breast tissue, ensuring thorough coverage.

Step 6: Circular Pattern

Next, switch to a circular motion using more pressure. Start from the outer areas and gradually move towards the nipple. This method helps detect any deeper tissue abnormalities that may not be easily noticeable in the previous steps. Pay attention to any areas that feel different or have a lump-like consistency.

Step 7: Nipple Examination

Finally, gently squeeze your nipple and check for any discharge. Note any unusual changes, such as bloody or clear fluid, as it may require further evaluation by a healthcare professional. Changes in the nipple, including discharge or inversion, should be monitored closely and reported to a healthcare provider.

Performing these systematic steps during a breast self-exam ensures a thorough assessment of breast health and increases the likelihood of detecting any abnormalities or changes.

Signs to Look Out For

During your self-exam, it is important to be aware of the signs that may indicate a potential issue. Seek medical attention if you notice any of the following:

  • New lumps or hard knots in the breast or underarm area: These may indicate the presence of abnormal tissue growth.

  • Changes in breast size or shape: Any noticeable changes in breast size or shape should be evaluated further.

  • Swelling, warmth, or redness: These symptoms may suggest inflammation or infection.

  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin: Skin changes, such as dimpling or puckering, can be a sign of underlying issues.

  • Nipple changes, such as inversion, discharge, or scaling: Any changes in the nipple should be closely monitored and reported to a healthcare professional.

  • Persistent pain or tenderness: Unexplained, persistent pain or tenderness in the breast should not be ignored and should be evaluated by a healthcare provider.

When to Consult a Healthcare Professional

While most breast changes are not cancerous, it is crucial to consult a healthcare professional if you notice any concerning signs or experience persistent symptoms. Early detection and diagnosis of breast cancer greatly improve the chances of successful treatment and positive outcomes.

Consult a healthcare professional if you:

  • Notice any of the signs mentioned above during your self-exam or other times.

  • Experience persistent breast pain or tenderness that does not resolve.

  • Have a family history of breast cancer or other risk factors that necessitate closer monitoring.

  • Are unsure about any changes you have observed during your self-exam.

Remember, it is always better to seek medical advice when in doubt. Healthcare professionals have the expertise to evaluate any concerns and provide appropriate guidance and further tests if necessary.


Regular breast self-exams are an important aspect of maintaining breast health and detecting any potential issues. By following this comprehensive guide and performing self-exams regularly, individuals can become familiar with their breast tissue and identify any changes that may indicate the need for further medical evaluation. However, it is essential to remember that self-exams are not a substitute for regular screenings and clinical examinations, so make sure to schedule regular check-ups with your healthcare provider. Taking an active role in your breast health can lead to early detection and better overall outcomes.

Note: This article is intended to serve as a guide for performing breast self-exams and providing essential information. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with a healthcare professional for personalized guidance and recommendations.

1. Why should I perform breast self-exams?

Performing breast self-exams allows individuals to become familiar with their breast tissue, detect changes early, and take control of their breast health.

2. How often should I perform breast self-exams?

It is generally recommended to perform a breast self-exam once a month for consistent monitoring of breast health. Choose a specific time in your menstrual cycle or a consistent day each month for post-menopausal individuals.

3. What is the step-by-step guide for performing a breast self-exam?

The step-by-step guide for performing a breast self-exam includes preparation, visual examination, arm elevation, manual examination, vertical strip pattern, circular pattern, and nipple examination.

4. When should I consult a healthcare professional regarding breast changes?

You should consult a healthcare professional if you notice new lumps or hard knots, changes in breast size or shape, swelling, warmth, redness, dimpling or puckering of the skin, nipple changes, persistent pain or tenderness, or if you have a family history of breast cancer or other risk factors.