It is recommended that women practice breast self-examination (BSE) every month. This should be done at the same time each month, seven to 10 days after the start of your period, if menstruating. If not, use a fixed day each month. Report any changes in your breasts to your physician as soon as possible. While most lumps are not cancerous, only your doctor can tell you for sure. Early detection of breast cancer means early treatment and improves the chance of survival.
In addition to BSE, have your physician check your breasts annually. You should have a mammogram every year, when you are between 40 and 50 years of age. After the age of 50, most women should have a mammogram every two years.
There are many BSE methods. Whichever method you choose, it is important to be consistent.
Breast self-examination is a simple three-part check:
- While standing
- Lying down
Begin checking your breasts by standing or sitting in front of a mirror.
- Face forward, leave your arms by your side and look at your breasts carefully for overall changes in size, shape or contour of each breast.
- Turn repeatedly from side to side.
- While still looking in a mirror, lift your arms above your head and behind your ears and again, check for overall changes.
- Then lower your hands to your nose level and squeeze your palms together.
- Look for obvious lumps, changes in the shape of your breasts, spontaneous nipple discharge or inversion, skin dimpling or discolouration, skin thickening, or areas of tenderness, and anything that was not there on the previous examination.
The following steps should be completed for both breasts:
- Use your opposite hand for each breast. Place your fingers together, keeping fingers stiff and your hand flat.
- Starting just below your collarbone, make small circles, in straight lines at one-inch intervals. Cover the area outlined by the grid pattern in Figure 1. Do this slowly all the way across your breast.
- Now move your fingers down, and continue checking across your breast in a grid pattern. See Figure 2.
- Keep moving down in a grid pattern until you have included the area below your breast. You will make many circles to check your whole breast. Remember; keep your hand and fingers straight. Slide the finger pads after each circle, always keeping contact with the skin surface.
- Complete these steps for both breasts.
- Check your nipple area. See Figure 3.
- Remember to check under your arm, sliding fingers downward over the rib surface. See Figure 4.
- Lie on your back on a firm surface, such as your bed, repeat the procedure.
- Using the opposite hand, hold your fingers together; keep fingers stiff and hand flat.
- Use the pads of your fingers, not the tips.
- Bend your wrist to cover the curves of your breasts.
- Slide the finger pads after completing each small circle, maintaining contact with the skin surface.
- Apply enough pressure to feel below the skin surface.
Taking the time to do breast self-examination each month is an important part of a healthy lifestyle.
Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation
Follow a Routine
- Perform a breast-self examination monthly.
- Report any changes in your breasts to your physician as soon as possible.
- Have your physician check your breasts annually.
- Have a yearly mammogram when you are between 40 and 50 years of age (every two years for women over 50).