Breast self-examination is one of the most important tools you have for early detection of breast cancer.
- Lie down and place your right arm behind your head. The examination is performed while lying down, not standing up, because when lying down the breast tissue spreads evenly over the chest wall, making it much easier to feel all the breast tissue.
- Use the finger pads of the three middle fingers on your left hand to feel for lumps in the right breast. Use overlapping dime-sized circular motions of the finger pads to feel the breast tissue.
- Use three different levels of pressure to feel all the breast tissue. Light pressure is needed to feel the tissue closest to the skin; medium pressure to feel a little deeper; and firm pressure to feel the tissue closest to the chest and ribs. It is normal to feel a firm ridge in the lower curve of each breast, but you should tell your doctor if you feel anything else out of the ordinary. Use each pressure level to feel the breast tissue before moving on to the next spot.
- Move around the breast in an up and down pattern starting at an imaginary line drawn straight down your side from the underarm and moving across the breast to the middle of the chest bone (sternum or breastbone). Be sure to check the entire breast area going down until you feel only ribs and up to the neck or collar bone (clavicle).
- Some evidence suggests that the up-and-down pattern (sometimes called the vertical pattern) is the most effective pattern for covering the entire breast, without missing any breast tissue.
- Repeat the examination on your left breast, putting your left arm behind your head and using the finger pads of your right hand to perform the examination.
- While standing in front of a mirror with your hands pressing firmly down on your hips, look at your breasts for any changes in size, shape, contour, or dimpling, or redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin. (The pressing down on the hips position contracts the chest wall muscles and enhances any breast changes.)
- Examine each underarm while sitting up or standing and with your arm only slightly raised so you can easily feel in this area. Raising your arm straight up tightens the tissue in this area and makes it harder to examine.
This breast self-examination procedure is different from previous recommendations. These changes represent an extensive review of the medical literature and input from an expert advisory group. There is evidence that this position (lying down), the area felt, pattern of coverage of the breast, and use of different amounts of pressure increase a person’s ability to find abnormal areas.
Source: Breast Cancer. American Cancer Society Web site. http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/BreastCancer/DetailedGuide/breast-cancer-detection. Accessed September 22, 2011.