Detecting & Living with Breast Cancer For Dummies
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There are a few different ways of examining your breasts. The following discussion talks about three of the most common ways. Remember, you should do a self-examination once a month, preferably in the week following your menstrual period.

breast-patterns Illustration by Kathryn Born

Gently probe each breast in one of these three patterns.

Breast examination in the shower

Use the palm side of your hand to move gently over the breast and under the armpit in a circular motion (see the following figure) and you may also need to "cup the breast" (four fingers on top side of breast and thumb underneath the breast) to feel the central portion of the breast. While doing your breast exam, apply light pressure to find changes just beneath the skin, medium pressure to feel changes further beneath the skin, and deeper pressure to feel changes close to the chest wall.

breast-circular Illustration by Kathryn Born

Apply pressure in a circular motion using an up and down pattern (left). Examine underarm with arm slightly raised (right).

The wet skin will help your fingers to glide easier over the breast. You should check for thickness, lumps, and swelling.

Breast examination in front of the mirror

  • Hands on your side: Place your arms at your side and look at your breast in the mirror. You can slowly rotate your upper body while your hands are at your side and flex your chest muscles.
  • Hands on your head: Raise your hands, place them on your head, and examine each breast for bulges or dimpling, especially underneath. It is normal to have dimpling on both breasts at the same location; if you only have dimpling on one breast, contact your doctor for an evaluation.
  • Hands above your head: Lift your hands above your head and look for breast changes, especially in the nipple area (such as inverted nipple).
  • Hands on your hips: Rest your hands on both hips and press firmly while you flex your shoulders backward. This position will allow you to flex your chest muscles while you rotate your upper body to look for changes in shape or appearance.

Breast examination while lying down

Place a pillow under your mid-back. This allows your chest to expand. Then place your right hand behind your head and with your left palm and fingers press gently in small circular motions as if your breast is an imaginary clock.

Be systematic in how you do your breast exam. Start at the outside edges of your breast at the 12 o'clock position of the imaginary clock and move clockwise until you return to 12 o'clock again. Move a little toward the center of the clock and repeat. Keep moving in a circular motion and inward until you reach the nipple. Switch hands and repeat for your other breast.

At the end of the process, gently pinch each nipple between the thumb and the index finger to determine whether there is any secretion. If there is, you must check with your doctor.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Marshalee George, PhD, is Faculty and Oncology Nurse Practitioner at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Division of Surgical Oncology at Johns Hopkins Breast Center.

Kimlin Tam Ashing, PhD, is Professor and Founding Director of City of Hope's Center of Community Alliance for Research and Education. Together they have over 40 years combined experience in treating breast cancer patients through diagnosis, treatment, recovery, and recurrent illness, as well as survivorship and follow-up care.

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