When breast self exams (BSE) were introduced many years ago, they were thought to be very promising for the early detection of breast cancer. The largest studies completed to date, however, have demonstrated that there's no difference in breast cancer mortality in women who perform a BSE compared to those women who don't.
That being said, I do feel it's important for women to get to know the look and feel of their breasts so they're able to notice any new changes. Women should consider starting to perform a BSE in their 20's, and do them once a month (at about the same time each month).
There isn't one correct way to perform a BSE, however, here's the most commonly recommended method to get you started:
- Place your hands on your hips and look in the mirror for any changes in the shape, size, or skin on the breast
- Next, lying down, place your right hand behind your head
- Use your middle three fingertips on the left hand to examine the right breast
- Be sure to examine the breast tissue all the way from the armpit to the breastbone and from the collarbone to the bra line
- Using the middle three fingertips, starting in the armpit, use a circular motion to feel the breast tissue. Be sure to use light, medium and firm pressure to feel different levels of breast tissue
- Then slightly lower your arm and re-examine the area under the armpit with the skin a little less tense
- Repeat on the left side
As you're examining the breast tissue, look for any new firm lumps, pain or thickening. If you you've identified any of these and are unsure of what you're feeling, be sure to contact your health care provider. And remember that not every lump is cancer.