Breast Examination - Self Exam Information
- Introduction to Breast Self-Exam
- When to Perform Breast Self-Exam
- Breast Changes and Warning Signs To Watch for During Breast Self-Exam:
- Any new lump or hard knot found in the breast or armpit
- Any lump or thickening that does not shrink or lessen after your next period
- Any change in the size, shape or symmetry of your breast
- A thickening or swelling of the breast
- Any dimpling, puckering or indention in the breast
- Dimpling, skin irritation or other change in the breast skin or nipple
- Redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin
- Nipple discharge (fluid coming from your nipples other than breast milk), particularly if the discharge is bloody, clear and sticky, dark or occurs without squeezing your nipple
- Nipple tenderness or pain
- Nipple retraction: turning or drawing inward or pointing in a new direction
- Any breast change that may be cause for concern
If any of these changes or other abnormalities are noted, women should see their physicians as soon as possible for clinical evaluation. However, it is important to note that in the majority of cases (80%), breast lumps and changes are not cancerous. Therefore, women should not allow their fear of breast cancer to keep them from visiting their physician if a lump or change is found.
Even if a woman has normally lumpy breasts (typically called fibrocystic breasts), she can still learn the usual pattern of lumps and then point out new or unusual lumps to her physician. Lumpy breasts or breasts with benign (non-cancerous) masses or cysts can be more difficult to examine. In fact, without knowledgeable direction from the patient, it may be more difficult for a physician to differentiate between a new mass and a stable lump. If a womanâ€™s breasts are normally lumpy, she should note how many separate lumps she feels and their corresponding locations when performing self-exams. Then, during subsequent exams, she should check for any changes, particularly an increase in the size of lumps that persist after her period. Any changes should be reported to a physician or healthcare provider.
Many women continue to perform breast self exams during pregnancy. Clinical breast exams should be performed by a healthcare professional on a monthly basis during pregnancy. It is especially important that a clinical breast exam be performed during the first doctor visit of the pregnancy, before the breasts go through significant physiologic changes. Some changes or lumps are more difficult to evaluate once the breasts have enlarged and become more nodular.