Breast Self-Exam


Although most guidelines no longer recommend breast self-exams for average risk women, it is still important for you to be aware of how your breasts usually look and feel and notify your provider about any changes. If weakness, limited reach, swollen joints, or lack of feeling in your hands makes it difficult, we encourage you to experiment with different positions and ask a trusted other to help you examine your breasts.

How Do You Do a Breast Self-Exam?

Traditionally, the breast self-exam includes the following steps. Your mobility impairment may cause you to alter the techniques described here, and you may have to have your personal assistant help you with your exam. Do not be discouraged. The key to the breast self-exam is not that you do it exactly as we describe, but that you or someone else regularly looks at and examines your breasts and armpits for changes.

Steps for the Breast Self-Exam

  1. Look at your breasts in a mirror. Look from the front and the both sides. First rest your arms at your sides, then clasp your hands behind your head and press forward, then press your hands on your hips.
  2. Feel your breasts while you are standing or sitting up. Move the pads of your fingers in an up and down or circular pattern so that you do not miss any part of your chest and breast area.
  3. Then feel above and below the collarbone and the underarm areas for swelling. You may wish to do this while you are showering.
  4. Feel your breasts while you are lying down.

Know What Is Normal for You

Visit your healthcare provider if you notice any of these breast changes:

  • Lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
  • Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
  • Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
  • Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
  • New pain in one spot that doesn’t go away

Additional Resources


Reference List

  1. American Academy of Family Physicians [AAFP]. Clinical practice service recommendation: Breast cancer; breast self-exam (BSE). Published 2016. Accessed July 29, 2020.
  2. American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society recommendations for the early detection of breast cancer. Updated October 13, 2019. Accessed July 29, 2020.
  3. Committee on Practice Bulletins- Gynecology. Practice bulletin number 179: Breast cancer risk assessment and screening in average-risk women. Obstet Gynecol. 2017;130(1):e1-e16.
  4. Kösters JP, Gøtzsche PC. Regular self-examination or clinical examination for early detection of breast cancer. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2003;2: Art. No.: CD003373.
  5. American Association on Health and Disability. Women with disabilities and breast self-awareness messages. Published 2016. Accessed July 16, 2020.