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News Room: ENQUIRER: Self-exam can be key to early detection

To download a pdf of this article, please click here.

By: Toni Schklar

The American Cancer Society statistics show that one out of every eight women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. Men can get breast cancer, but the incidence is much lower. Thanks to better, more advanced treatments, many of those diagnosed with breast cancer will go on to live full, active lives.

Early detection is important, because when a cancer is detected in the early stages, treatments can be more effective. There are different ways to test for breast cancer, and one of the easiest is for women to do Breast Self-Exam, a physical examination of your own breast tissue. Following are the breast screening guidelines recommended by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network .


  • Should be performed each month. Becoming familiar with your normal breast tissue and appearance makes it easier to notice changes if and when they occur.
  • Ideal time is 7-10 days after the first day of your menstrual period. Breasts are naturally less lumpy and tender at this time (also true if you have breast implants).
  • During pregnancy, a Breast Self-Exam (BSE) can be performed any time, but it should be the same time each month. If you are breast feeding, perform your monthly BSE at the same each month after you have fed the baby. Any time of day is OK.


  • Stand undressed from the waist up in front of a full-length mirror with arms relaxed at your sides (if standing is difficult, do this in a seated position). Get to know how your breasts look. Even a small visual change can be a significant early sign of a problem.
  • Compare your breasts while turning from side to side. Look for any changes in breast size, shape, skin texture or color (including redness, dimpling, puckering or pulling back of the skin).
  • Notice any nipple changes, such as scaliness, a pulling to one side, or a discharge.
  • Feel above and below your collar bone for pea- and bean-sized lumps or thickening. Applying skin cream or lotion to the skin can help the fingers glide over the skin more easily.
  • Check for lumps or thickening under your arm while relaxing your arm at your side. Reach across with your other hand to feel the area. Check deeply up and down the inside of the armpit, and up and forward toward your chest. Note any changes from previous self-exams.

For the next steps, lie down.

  • Place a pillow or folded towel under your left shoulder. This helps your breast tissue spread evenly across your chest wall. Bend you left arm behind your head and reach across with your right hand to your left breast.
  • Begin the exam at the armpit. Move your three middle fingers together using light, medium and deep pressures. Your hand should move in straight rows to cover all the breast tissue from the line where your blouse seam would fall to the bra line, the breastbone (sternum) and collarbone. Then repeat on the other side.

What if you find something?

Most commonly, lumps such as cysts, are non-cancerous (benign) and are usually not a serious health problem. However, it is always important to report any changes in your breast to your health care provider. Remember, early detection improves long-term outcomes.

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