Breast cancer awareness: The five steps of a breast self-exam

Breast Cancer Ribbon

Step One: Begin by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips.
Look for:

  • Breasts that are their usual size, shape and color
  • Breasts that are evenly shaped without visible distortion or swelling

Inform your provider if you see:

  • Dimpling, puckering or bulging of the skin
  • A nipple that has changed position or an inverted nipple (pushed inward instead of sticking out)
  • Redness, soreness, rash or swelling

Step Two: Now, raise your arms and look for the same changes.

Step Three: While you’re at the mirror, look for any signs of fluid coming out of one or both nipples (this could be a watery, milky, or yellow fluid or blood).

Step Four: Next, feel your breasts while lying down, using your right hand to feel your left breast and then your left hand to feel your right breast. Make sure to extend each arm over your head to feel into your armpit as well. Use a firm, smooth touch with the first few finger pads of your hand, keeping the fingers flat and together. Use a circular motion, about the size of a quarter. Feel from the collarbone to the top of your abdomen and from your armpit to your cleavage.

You can also move your fingers up and down vertically, in rows, as if you were mowing a lawn. Be sure to feel all the tissue from the front to the back of your breasts: for the skin and tissue just beneath, use light pressure; use medium pressure for tissue in the middle of your breasts; use firm pressure for the deep tissue in the back.

Step Five: Finally, feel your breasts while you are in the shower. It is usually easier for women to feel the texture of the breast when it is wet and slippery. Cover your entire breast, using the same hand movements described in step
Make sure to be consistent. Try to remember to do it at the same time of the month. It is better to do the exam the week after your menstrual cycle if you are premenopausal, otherwise anytime of the month is great, it is up to you!


About Lisa Michels

Lisa Michels, APNP, nurse practitioner, works collaboratively with the Agnesian Cancer Care team helping patients effectively manage symptoms associated with their cancer treatments. She also works with Agnesian HealthCare surgeons and radiologists to identify individuals at increased risk for breast and other cancers. Her passion is in early detection and prevention of breast cancer, as well as monitoring the status of breast cancer survivors.

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