Breast Self Examination (BSE)

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Breast Self-Examination (BSE) is performed by a woman on her own breast tissue in the comfort of her home. Although guidelines for BSE vary, women are recommended to be familiar with their breast tissue through self-examination once a month, usually seven (7) days AFTER the start of each menstrual period. If a woman is not having periods due to pregnancy, birth control effects, or menopause, then it is recommended that she perform BSE on the same date each month. It is sometimes easier to remember to perform BSE if you choose the first day of each month, or the date of your birthday each month.

A BSE may be performed starting in puberty when the breasts are developing and continue throughout her lifetime.

Disadvantages of BSE:

  • Fear and anxiety about what may be found during the exam, and
  • False-positive ("false alarm") finding, which is a result that indicates that a condition is present (i.e., breast lump or possible cancer) when it is not (i.e., non-cancerous breast tissue).

Advantages of BSE:

  • Allows each woman control over her own health,
  • Provides each woman knowledge of what her own breast tissue feels like,
  • Is a non-invasive, simple procedure, and
  • Can detect breast cancer at an earlier stage than if a woman does not perform BSE.

The procedure for BSE takes only 5-10 minutes, and is best performed standing and lying down. It is no longer recommended to perform the BSE in the shower.

STEP 1 (Standing): Look for Changes — As your arms move, check to make sure both breasts move the same, and that the skin does not dimple or pucker.

Raise arms above head, then place your hands on your hips and bring your elbows forward.

STEP 2 (Laying Down): Feel for Changes — Place a pillow under your back under the breast you want to examine.

Using the pads of the middle three fingers of the opposite hand (right breast, left hand; left breast, right hand), move your fingers around your breast in either a circular, up-and-down, or wedge motion, and feel for anything that is different than the surrounding breast tissue. Complete the exam by gently squeezing the nipple to check for bleeding or discharge.

Contact your health care provider if your exam reveals any worrisome findings, or if you are unsure about how to perform breast self-examination.