The American Cancer Society suggests all women over the age of 20 should examine their breasts once a month. The best way for women to discover a lump early is to take the time to know her own breasts and to examine them monthly for signs of change. Most changes do not mean cancer. A woman who discovers a lump or other change should talk to her doctor or midwife right away.
The best time to do breast self-examination is right after your period. This is the time that your breasts are least tender. During pregnancy, we suggest you pick some meaningful day of the month (such as the first day of each month).
- Lie down and put a pillow under your right shoulder. Place your right arm behind your head.
- Use the finger pads of your three middle fingers on your left hand to feel for lumps or thickening.
- Press firmly enough to know how your breast feels. If you are not sure how hard to press, ask your health care provider or try to copy the way your health care provider uses the finger pads during a breast examination. Learn what your breast feels like most of the time. A firm ridge in the lower curve of each breast is normal.
- Move around the breast in a set way. You can choose to go around in circles, up and down the breast in vertical lines, or to section the breast into wedges like a pie and examine each wedge carefully.
- Now examine your left breast using the right hand finger pads.
- Finally, squeeze the nipple of each breast gently between thumb and index finger. Any discharge, clear or bloody, should be reported to your doctor or midwife immediately.
You might want to check your breasts for visible changes such as dimpling, changes in the nipple, redness or swelling while standing in front of a mirror right after you do your breast self-examination each month. You might also want to do an extra breast self-examination while you are in the shower. Your soapy hands will glide over the wet skin making it easy to check how your breasts feel.