Women detect most lumps in their breasts themselves by performing breast self exams (BSE). Performing regular self exams will familiarize you with how your breasts feel normally so you will be able to more easily recognize changes.
Even though most breast lumps are not cancerous, the self exam is something that causes anxiety. If performing a BSE causes you anxiety, speak to your physician who might suggest you stop them and have exams in the office only. Do not feel guilty. There is no evidence linking a reduction in breast cancer deaths to BSE.
The best time to do a monthly BSE is right after your period when the breasts are no longer tender or swollen. Plan to perform the exam the same day each month. If your periods are irregular, you should skip a month.
Stand or sit in front of the mirror. With your arms at your sides, look for changes in the breasts, such as dimples, lumps, thickening, skin changes, rashes, prominent vein pattern, changes in the shape and symmetry of the nipple or breast, redness or swelling. Gently squeeze both nipples, looking for discharge.
Raise both arms above or behind your head and look for the same changes. Pull your shoulders and elbows forward as you press your hands on your hips and lean slightly toward the mirror. Tense your chest muscles. This will make any changes more prominent.
In the shower, raise your right arm behind your head. With your left hand soaped, place the flat part or pads (not tips) of your fingers on your opposite breast. Begin at the armpit and glide the fingers in a circular motion using first light, then medium and, finally, deep pressures.
Work around the breast to include the nipple. Be sure to thoroughly examine the area between the armpit and the breastbone and all the way from the collarbone down to the lower bra line. Repeat this procedure with the other breast.
Lie comfortably on your back. Place a pillow or folded towel beneath your right shoulder. Repeat the above shower procedure, using a circular finger motion with three levels of pressure to cover the whole breast and underarm area. Check for lumps or thickening. Move the pillow or towel under your left shoulder and examine your left breast with your right hand.