Doing regular breast self-exams can understandably be a real pain in the ... breast. Some women do not like to touch this area of the body, sometimes breasts can be tender. An examination may not be ideal and there are so many lumps and bumps that it may be hard to distinguish normal from not normal.
Becoming familiar with your breast tissue is as important as examining your skin for changing moles. Your breasts are yours, and they deserve regular self-checks in order to look for changes.
While you have two breasts, they are sisters not twins. This means they may be similar between the right and left side but they may not be exactly alike.
First, be aware that one side may be bigger, one side may be more tender, one areola may be smaller, etc. Make sure, however, that you examine each breast equally and at roughly the same time of the month as menstrual changes may cause breast tissue changes.
Second, assume a comfortable position either standing up or laying down. In either case, raise the arm on the same side as the breast you are going to examine over your head to stretch out the tissue.
Pick a starting position (for instance, the upper, outer quadrant). Begin to assess at a superficial, medium and deep level with the pads of your finger tips while you make tiny circles into the skin. Move in an up and down fashion, similar to the way that you might drive a lawnmower up and down your lawn.
Third, remember that there is a lot of breast tissue space (whether you have a lot of tissue or not). Breast tissue goes from up under the collar bone (which rotates up and back when you raise your arm, FYI), along the breast bone, along the bra line and back up the side of the chest wall into the arm pit.
Fourth, don't forget your nipple. Make sure to assess the tissue directly under it and check to make sure your nipples have not suddenly become inverted, or pulled inward. If you have always had inverted nipples (or one nipple) this is probably normal for you.
Check to make sure you do not have nipple discharge. Some nipple discharge may be normal but it is best to talk to your health care provider.
Fifth, a mammogram does not replace a breast exam and vice versa. Remember that abnormal cancer cells start out very tiny and breast tissue can be very dense therefore imaging is necessary. Still you will have a better chance of detect changes earlier within your own body if you are doing regular exams. If you have any suspicions, talk with your health care provider immediately.
1. Susan G. Komen. 2013. Breast Self Exam. Retrieved on October 20, 2013 from
2. Weaver, C. 2007. How Do I Do A Proper Breast Self-Exam? Retrieved on October 20, 2013 from
Reviewed October 21, 2013
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith