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Breast Examination - Self Exam Information

Notice: Revised breast cancer screening guidelines issued in November 2009.

Women may perform breast self exams to help detect changes in their breasts to call to their physicians' attention. Performing regular breast self exams can help women become familiar with the individual characteristics of their breasts and notice any changes.

Self Breast Exam

In recent years, organizations such as the American Cancer Society have changed their positions, no longer recommending that women perform self exams on a monthly basis. This decision was made after several studies revealed that the exams do not increase the chances that women will survive breast cancer. Despite the change in position, the American Cancer Society and other organizations suggest that self exams can be performed to help detect changes in the breasts to call to a physician's attention. Women who perform self exams should consult a healthcare professional to determine how to correctly perform the exam. If women learn to perform BSE correctly, they can help detect changes and bring them promptly to a medical professional. Finding a breast cancer tumor when it is smaller improves the chances of saving a breast by avoiding a mastectomy, and may reduce the need for chemotherapy.

It is important to remember that mammography is still the gold standard for early detection of breast cancer. Many cancer organizations, including the American Cancer Society, recommend that every woman 40 or older should have a mammogram every year. Unfortunately mammography misses 10% of cancers. So, it is still important for women to have their breasts examined on a regular basis by a healthcare professional, and perform monthly breast self-exams.

Click on one of the links below for more specific information on how to perform BSE or for additional resources.

Introduction to Breast Self-Exam

Regularly examining her own breasts allows a woman to become familiar with how her breasts normally look and feel and can help her more readily detect any changes that may occur. Many women naturally have some lumpiness and asymmetry (differences between the right and left breast). The key to the breast self-exam is to learn how to find changes in the breasts that persist over time.

Many women do not know how to perform breast self exams properly. Performing BSE incorrectly can be almost as bad as not doing the exam at all since it can give women a false sense of security. After reading these sections on BSE, women should discuss any questions they might have about BSE techniques with their physicians and ask him or her to demonstrate how to perform BSE during the clinical breast exam portion of the physical exam.

When to Perform Breast Self-Exam

Menstruating women: Hormonal changes due to the menstrual cycle may make the breasts more lumpy or swollen. Women who are menstruating should perform breast self-exam from a few days to about a week after menstruation (period) has ended, when breasts are usually less tender or swollen.

While organizations, such as the American Cancer Society, no longer recommend monthly breast self exams, performing regular exams-in conjunction with other screening methods such as clinical breast exams-can help women become familiar with their breasts and report changes to their physicians in a prompt manner.

Women who are no longer menstruating: should do their BSE on the same day every month. Try to pick a day that is easy to remember, such as the first or fifteenth of every month, and make that the day each month for breast self-exam.

Women using oral contraceptives: are encouraged to do their BSE each month on the day they begin a new package of pills.