Breast self exam


A breast self exam is when a woman examines her own breasts for changes or problems.

Many women feel that doing this is important to their health. It helps them learn how their breasts normally feel, so that if they find a lump they will know if they should call their doctor or nurse.

However, there is not agreement among experts about recommending breast self exams. It is not known for sure what role breast self exams play in finding breast cancer or saving lives.

Talk to your health care provider about whether breast self exams are right for you.

Alternative Names

Self-examination of the breast; BSE


If you decide to do breast self exams, make sure you do so about 3 – 5 days after your period starts. Your breasts are not as tender or lumpy during this time of month.

If you have gone through menopause, do your exam on the same day every month.

  • First, lie on your back. It is easier to examine all breast tissue if you are lying down.
  • Place your right hand behind your head. With the middle fingers of your left hand, gently yet firmly press down using small motions to examine the entire right breast.
  • Next, sit or stand. Feel your armpit, because breast tissue goes into that area.
  • Gently squeeze the nipple, checking for discharge. Repeat the process on the left breast.
  • Use one of the patterns shown in the diagram to make sure that you are covering all of the breast tissue.

Next, stand in front of a mirror with your arms by your side.

  • Look at your breasts directly and in the mirror. Look for changes in skin texture, such as dimpling, puckering, indentations, or skin that looks like an orange peel.
  • Also note the shape and contour of each breast.
  • Check to see if the nipple turns inward.

Do the same with your arms raised above your head.

Most women have some lumps. Your goal is to find anything new or different. If you do, call your health care provider right away.

See also:

  • Breast lumps
  • Fibroadenoma – breast
  • Fibrocystic breast disease


Smith RA, Cokkinides V, Brawley OW. Cancer screening in the United States, 2008: A review of current American Cancer Society guidelines and cancer screening issues. CA Cancer J Clin. 2008;58:161-179.

Bevers TB, Anderson BO, Bonaccio E, Buys S, Daly MB, Dempsey PJ, et al. NCCN clinical practice guidelines in oncology: breast cancer screening and diagnosis. J Natl Compr Canc Netw. 2009;7:1060-1096.

Screening by Breast Self-Examination National Cancer Institute Breast cancer screening PDQ. Last Modified: 01/28/2011


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