You are here: Deaconess Associates > Deaconess Breast Services > Patient Education > Prevention: The Self Exam

Prevention: The Self Exam

Monitoring your breast health is important, and the American Cancer Society has developed an effective three-step process involving mammography, regular physical exams by doctors, and breast self-exam.

A monthly breast self-exam is a simple three-step procedure that has helped millions of women identify breast disease early enough to allow for successful treatment. In fact, most breast lumps are discovered by the women who have them. By becoming familiar with the unique structure of your breasts, you can identify potential problems. And each time you perform the exam, you will better able to detect changes.

Step one: at your mirror

  • Make sure you have good light and are comfortable, whether you are sitting or standing
  • Keep your arms at your sides, and look for visible lumps, thickenings, dimples, or other changes to the skin of your breasts
  • Raise your arms above or behind your head and look again
  • Place your hands on your hips and tense your chest muscles.  Look again for any visible changes.
  • Gently squeeze each nipple to see if there is any discharge

Step two: while lying down

  • Lie on your back with a pillow under your right shoulder
  • Make small circular motions over the right breast area using your left hand's feel_4_c.jpgfingertips. Follow an up and down pattern from collarbone to beneath your breasts, as well as your underarms, once with light pressure, once with firmer pressure, and once with very firm pressure.
  • Repeat for your left breast, using your right hand.

Step three: in the shower

  • Raise your right arm behind your head and soap your left hand. Then check the entire breast area using the same process as in Step Two.
  • Repeat the process by raising your left arm and using your right hand to check theshower.jpg left breast.
  • Because the characteristics of your breasts are ever-changing, it's important to perform your exam at the same time every month. The best time is just as your period ends (or on the same day of each month, if you've gone through menopause). Remember to perform all three steps for a complete exam.
  • Some women are hesitant about performing self-exams, because they worry about finding lumps. If you share those concerns, you should know that most breast lumps are not cancerous.

If you detect something unusual

If you find a lump or other change, call your doctor's office (or the Breast Center at (812) 424-1200 and explain the reason for your call, so that the person at the other end understands the urgency. But don't panic. About three out of four breast lumps turn out to be non-cancerous!