Logo Mass Medical Imaging

Tips for Giving Yourself a Breast Exam at Home

Tips for Giving Yourself a Breast Exam at Home
Screening mammograms are the gold standard for detecting breast cancer in its earliest, most treatable stages. But that doesn’t mean you can skip your monthly at-home breast exams. Breast self-exams keep you on top of your own breast health.

Other than skin cancers, breast cancer is the single-most common cancer in women in the United States. About one in every eight women develop breast cancer, usually after age 62. 

Breast cancer death rates have declined by 43% from 1989 to 2020. The lower death rates are due to a combination of increased breast cancer screening, early detection, and better treatments.

The best way to catch breast cancer in an early stage is through regular mammograms. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends the following schedule, depending on your age:

  • 40-44 years: annual mammograms, if desired 
  • 45-54 years: annual mammograms
  • 55 years and older: either annual or biannual mammograms

The ACS also advises that you continue to get mammograms as long as you have a life expectancy of ten or more years. In between mammograms, regular self-exams at home help alert you to any changes that need evaluation.

At Mass Medical Imaging in Lake Forest, Illinois, our expert doctors Joseph Calandra, MD and Karen Mass, MD offer screening mammograms, as well as diagnostic mammograms, breast ultrasound, and dense breast evaluation. They also encourage you to perform at-home exams.

What’s the best way to perform an at-home breast exam? Following are some tips. 

Time your exam

If you’re still menstruating, try to perform your monthly self-exam about 3-5 days after the start of your period. At that point, premenstrual breast swelling and tenderness should have subsided.

After menopause, you don’t have to worry about when in the month you conduct your exam. Try to do it about the same time each month, however.

Get familiar with your normal

One of the most important aspects of a breast self-exam is that it familiarizes you with your breasts. Most women have one breast that’s a little fuller or higher than the other. 

After you’ve become accustomed to the way your breasts look and feel, you’re more alert to changes that could require further investigation. You need to both examine your breasts with your eyes and with your fingers so that you can detect any changes in texture or discern possible lumps.

Take a look

The first thing to do is examine your breasts visually. Remove your shirt and bra and stand in front of a mirror. In addition to just becoming familiar with your breasts, also look for signs that could need evaluation, including:

  • Inverted nipples
  • Swollen or reddened breasts
  • Dimpled or puckered skin
  • Pitting on breasts
  • Inverted nipples
  • Rashes or itching
  • Scales or sores

First, look at your breasts with your hands placed firmly on your hips. Next, raise your arms, press your hands together overhead, and look at your breasts again. 

Lift each breast to look underneath the folds. Check for any lesions or irregularities. 

Stand and feel

While you’re standing, examine each breast with the opposite hand. Use the pads of your three middle fingers to palpate all over the breast and under the arm, too. 

Move your fingers in a circular motion all over the breasts, checking for lumps, thickened areas, and knots. Use a light pressure at first, then increase the pressure. Examine each breast. Squeeze your nipples gently to check if there’s any discharge or oozing.

Lie down and feel

Repeat the procedure lying down on your back. Put a pillow under the shoulder and neck of the breast you’re examining. Use the same techniques that you used standing up. Repeat for the other breast.

Be curious, not worried

Most changes to your breast are benign. If you do feel a lump, change in texture, or if your nipples invert or secrete discharge, call us right away. 

If we agree that the change you detected is concerning, we may schedule you for a mammogram and breast ultrasound. Depending on the results, we either recommend staying with your monthly self-exams and yearly mammograms or we may advise a diagnostic mammogram.

Finding breast cancer early increases your chances for successful treatment and long-term survival. If you’re due for a mammogram or need help conducting self-exams, contact us by calling our friendly team or using our online appointment form.