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Breast Cancer: How to Conduct a Self-Examination at Home

Breast Cancer: How to Conduct a Self-Examination at Home, Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers affecting women worldwide. Early detection is crucial for successful treatment and can significantly improve survival rates. One of the simplest and most effective methods for early detection is the breast self-examination (BSE). While not a substitute for professional screenings, BSE is a proactive way for women to familiarize themselves with their bodies and notice any changes promptly. This guide will provide a comprehensive overview of how to conduct a breast self-examination at home.

Breast Cancer: How to Conduct a Self-Examination at Home

Why Self-Examination is Important

Self-examination can help women understand the normal look and feel of their breasts, making it easier to identify unusual changes. These changes could include lumps, swelling, or alterations in shape, size, or texture, which should be discussed with a healthcare professional.

When to Perform a Self-Examination

It's recommended to perform a BSE once a month, ideally a few days after your menstrual period ends when your breasts are least likely to be swollen or tender. For postmenopausal women or those with irregular periods, selecting a consistent date each month is beneficial.

Steps to Perform a Breast Self-Examination

1. Visual Inspection

Breast Cancer: How to Conduct a Self-Examination at Home, Begin by standing topless in front of a mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips. Look for any visible changes in the size, shape, and symmetry of your breasts. Also, inspect your nipples for any discharge or changes in appearance. Repeat this inspection with your arms raised above your head.

2. Physical Examination While Standing

Raise one arm behind your head. Using the opposite hand, use the pads of your three middle fingers to check the breast and surrounding area. Follow these steps:

  • Use a firm, smooth touch: Keep your fingers flat and together. Use a circular motion, about the size of a quarter.
  • Cover the entire breast: Follow a pattern to ensure you cover the whole breast. You can use a vertical strip pattern, starting from your collarbone down to the bottom of your rib cage and from your armpit to the middle of your chest. Alternatively, use a circular pattern starting from the nipple outward.
  • Check different pressures: Use light pressure for the skin and tissue just beneath, medium pressure for tissue in the middle, and firm pressure for the deep tissue. When you’ve reached the deep tissue, you should be able to feel down to your ribcage.

3. Physical Examination While Lying Down

Lie down and place a pillow under your right shoulder. Put your right arm behind your head. This position spreads the breast tissue more evenly. Breast Cancer: How to Conduct a Self-Examination at Home, Follow the same technique as the standing examination:

  • Use the pads of your three middle fingers of the opposite hand to examine your right breast.
  • Move your fingers in small circular motions covering the entire breast area, including the armpit.
  • Use varying pressure levels: light, medium, and firm.
  • Repeat the process for your left breast with your left arm behind your head.

What to Look For

During the self-examination, be aware of:

  • Lumps or thickening: Feel for any unusual lumps or thickened areas.
  • Changes in size, shape, or symmetry: Notice if one breast becomes significantly different from the other.
  • Skin changes: Look for dimpling, puckering, redness, or changes in texture.
  • Nipple changes: Be alert for any inversion, discharge, or unusual changes in the nipple area.
  • Persistent pain: Unexplained pain in one part of the breast.

What to Do If You Find a Lump

If you find a lump or any concerning change, don't panic. Many breast lumps are benign (non-cancerous) and could be due to various factors like hormonal changes or cysts. However, it's essential to consult a healthcare professional promptly for a thorough evaluation.

Tips for Effective Self-Examination

  • Be consistent: Regular monthly exams will help you understand what's normal for your breasts.
  • Use a journal: Keep a record of your findings each month to track any changes over time.
  • Don't rush: Take your time to thoroughly examine each breast and the surrounding area.
  • Get professional training: Ask your doctor or nurse to demonstrate the proper technique during your next check-up.

Limitations of Self-Examination

While BSE is a useful tool for early detection, it's not foolproof. Some breast cancers cannot be detected through self-examination alone. Therefore, it’s crucial to combine BSE with regular clinical exams and mammograms as recommended by your healthcare provider.


Breast Cancer: How to Conduct a Self-Examination at Home, Breast self-examination is a simple, cost-free method that empowers women to take an active role in their breast health. By performing regular self-exams, women can detect changes early and seek medical advice promptly, improving the chances of successful treatment. Remember, BSE should be part of a broader breast health strategy that includes professional screenings and a healthy lifestyle. Taking these proactive steps can make a significant difference in the early detection and treatment of breast cancer.


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