Self Breast Exams are Optional

self-bSelf Breast Exams are Optional – this is the recent recommendation from the medial community. Don’t let this confuse you, because they are vitally  important and should be considered as such.

A breast exam done by a medical provider is standard and extremely important but in some cases it can be done too infrequently. Often women believe that a self breast exam is enough, and it isn’t.

There still needs to be a place in the process for Mammograms . Monthly breast exams that become routine can give you better awareness, comfort, and information regarding the condition of your breast.

There are 2 main techniques for self breast exams that will be discussed below.  The key isn’t which type you choose but rather the consistency in which they are done.

Changes to your Breast can occur due to stress, timing of menstrual cycle, Pregnancy, Infection, lactating and more.

The essentials of a breast exam appears to change every few years. Some believe the awareness of your breast is the most essential while others hope that early detection can be initiated by the women herself.

Breast exams can still be done while pregnant or with breast implants.

What are you looking for?

This is often the main concern or biggest question asked.

A lump is only the partially correct answer. Many women have lumps in their breasts that aren’t alarming.  But other things such as dimpling, redness, skin texture changes, drainage, and more are also evaluated.

Most of the time, a lump is not necessarily cancer. This is really important to understand. What it does mean though, is that you need a second opinion by your medical provider.

How to Perform a Self Breast Exam

A breast exam is done by visualization of breast AND feeling of the breast tissue. It is really important to become familiar with how your tissue feels. That means, the first several times, you probably won’t think that you are doing a very good job. But over time a difference will be noted. Once you recognizance normal breast tissue, it is much easier to spot abnormal tissue.

Repetition is key!!!   Typically a self breast exam is done in front of mirror or when you are in the shower. Truthfully – both should be done. An exam in front of a mirror allows you to see the shape, size, and assess if any changes are seen.

When performing a breast exam. The hand on the same side of the breast being inspected should be held touching the back of the head.

2 main techniques:

1.) Up and down technique

–  Use opposite arm of breast being examined
–  Use 3 fingers
–  Use pads of fingers
–  Use pressure during examination
–  Examine armpits, breast tissue, and nipples
–  Start high then go straight down in a line
–  When to below breast – repeat again
–  Same arm as breast being examined should be placed behind head
–  Overlapping is common


2.) Circular technique

–  Use opposite arm of breast being examined
–  Use 3 fingers
–  Use pads of fingers
–  Use pressure during examination
–  Examine armpits, breast tissue, and nipples
–  Move fingers clockwise in each region of breast
–  Start a very small circle
–  Expand circle outwards
–  Move to next region, underarm
–  Overlapping is common
–  Same arm as breast being examined should be placed behind head

Divide each breast into 4 regions.

.   Inner upper
.   Inner lower
.   Outer upper
.   Outer lower

Consistency is the key – try to always start with the same breast and in the same direction

Start breast exams both prior and after your period ends. Many women have swelling and pain prior to starting their period.

When an Abnormal Area is Felt

First is don’t panic – only a very small number of “abnormal” areas are actually cancer.

Most are areas are non-cancerous, Breast Fibroadenoma, and/or Fibrocystic Changes.

However, you should inform your medical provider and further test may be necessary

Potential Findings

–  Hard lump
–  A lump can be found near underarm, on breast, or near nipple
–  Abnormal changes
–  Changes in color, texture
–  Changes in size or shape
–  Dimples
–  Inversion of nipple
–  Redness, warmth, or pain
–  Swelling
–  Nipple discharge [abnormal discharge]
–  Rashes, itching
–  Unexplainable sores

Risks of Self Breast Exam

1.)  Alone, self breast exams show no/minimal risks

2.)  Cancer is rare and therefore you may be subjecting yourself to tests that won’t find anything alarming.

3.)  Despite a self breast exam, cancer may still be missed

4.)  Our society has become much more aware of Breast Cancer.

5.)  Additional testing is often required. The self breast exam is not a diagnosis tool. With Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Mammograms, MRIs, self breast exams, and medical provider visits.

6.)  Awareness does help in the fight against cancer, but it may also increase fear and concern.


Despite decision regarding type of technique, timing of exam, or frequency – the key is knowing yourself.

A self breast exam may help – but it is currently it is considered optional.

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