How To: Breast Self Exams

By Janecia Britt

The best way to prevent cancer is to be proactive. Adult women of all ages are encouraged to perform breast self-exams at least once a month.  Johns Hopkins Medical center states, “Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important.” Now, a self-exam is considered to be less effective than other techniques, such as regular mammograms. This has led groups such as the American Cancer Society to deem breast self-exams optional. While mammograms can help you to detect cancer before you can feel a lump, breast self-exams help you to be familiar with how your breasts look and feel so you can alert your health care professional if there are any changes.

There are a few ways to perform a breast self-exam on yourself. These being in front of a mirror, in the shower or lying down, the most common is lying down, as it is easier to feel for lumps or abnormalities.

  1. When lying down, the breast tissue spreads out evenly along the chest wall.
  2. Place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head.
  3. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently in small circular motions covering the entire breast area and armpit.
  4. Use light, medium, and firm pressure. Squeeze the nipple; check for discharge and lumps.
  5. Repeat these steps for your left breast.

If you find a lump, schedule an appointment with your doctor, but don’t panic — 8 out of 10 lumps are not cancerous. For additional peace of mind, call your doctor whenever you have concerns.

   *For more information on mammograms and self-exams visit