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How to examine your breasts

Get to know your breasts! We encourage all women to be aware of how their breasts look and feel normally and report any changes to their doctor. The best way to do this is to know how to examine your breasts thoroughly.

Finding a change does not mean that you have cancer.

By being aware of how your own breasts look and feel, you will be more likely to notice any changes that might take place. You can also choose to use a step-by-step approach to checking your breasts on a set schedule.

The best time

It is best to do a breast self-examination (BSE) is when your breasts are not tender or swollen, so avoid the days just before your period or during your period. We recommend about 7 days after or before your period.

How to examine your breasts

  1. Stand in front of the mirror. Clasp your hands behind your head. Press hands forward and look for any changes to the shape or contour of your breasts, such as swelling, dimpling, or puckering of the skin.
  2. Continue checking as you press your hands firmly on your hips. Hunch your shoulders and lean forward slightly. Look for any changes.
  3. With your arms relaxed at your sides, look for changes to the breasts.
  4. Repeat this step in the shower. It’s often easier to find lumps when your skin is slick and soapy. Use breast exam methods below.
  5. Gently squeeze each nipple and look for discharge.
  6. Repeat this step while lying on your back. Put the arm of the breast you want to examine behind your head. Flatten the breast by placing a folded towel beneath that shoulder. Use breast exam methods below.

The breast exam method

Follow one or more of these patterns when conducting a breast exam.

Pay attention to the area between the breast and underarm, and the underarm area itself. Check above breast, up to the collarbone, and all the way up to the shoulder.

Radial method

Start at the outer edge of the breast. Move fingers towards the nipple and back out to the edge, in a small wedge-shaped section. Cover the whole breast this way.

Spiral method

Begin at the outer edge of the breast. Move fingers slowly in increasingly smaller circles until you reach the nipple.

Vertical method

Start in underarm area. Slowly move fingers downward until they are below the breast. Move slightly towards the middle and back up. Repeat to cover the whole breast.

Look for these changes to your breast

  • Swelling or change in size of the breast.
  • Skin irritation or dimpling.
  • Nipple change – pain or retraction (pulling inwards).
  • Rash, redness, scaling or thickening on or around the nipple or breast skin.
  • Nipple discharge that is not breast milk
  • A lump or swelling under the arm.

Remember: most of the time these breast changes are not cancer, but if you do find any changes, please arrange an appointment with your doctor immediately so they can make a professional examination and diagnosis.

This video from is also very helpful:

Breast exam image:

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