Breast Self-Examinations

The following information was developed by the Ontario Breast Screening Program - a program of Cancer Care Ontario.

If you examine your breasts every month, you will get to know how they look and feel. This will make it easier to notice any changes. If you notice any of the following changes in one breast, compare it to your other breast. If you are still in doubt, have your doctor examine you as soon as possible:
  • Changes in the size or shape of your breasts
  • Areas of your breast that become red, feel hot, or look like an orange peel
  • Dimples, creases or folds of your breast skin that are new
  • Changes to your nipples or your nipple area, such as an itchy red rash
  • Lumps in your breasts that were not present before
  • Fluid leaking from your nipple
Check your breasts at the same time every month; about seven days after the first day of your period. After menopause, or a hysterectomy, check them on the same day every month, for example, the first day of every month.

Go to your doctor and have your breasts checked once a year.

The most important things to remember about breast self-examination are:
  • Do it regularly.
  • Show any unusual changes to your doctor.
  • Do a complete check each time.
To perform a breast self-examination:
  1. With your hand relaxed at your side, look in a mirror to check for changes in the size or shape of your breasts. Look for any redness, new bulges, dimples, folds or creases or skin that looks like an orange peel.
  2. Raise your arms straight above your head and look for the same changes as above. Your breast tissue runs from below your collarbone to below your breasts and includes all of the area under your arms.
  3. Put your hands on your hips and push in with your hands. Again look for any changes in your breasts.
  4. Place one hand on your hip and rotate your shoulder slightly forward. Using the finger pads of the other hand (use the soft pads of your fingers, not the tips), check the area under your arm for any lumps. Change arms and examine the other underarm.
  5. Do the next part in the shower or sitting upright in the tub. Use soapy hands as they can "feel" the tissue better. Place one arm behind your head and use the other hand to examine your breast. Remember to use the soft pads of your fingers, not the tips.
  6. Think of each breast as a clock. Start at 12 o'clock right below your collarbone. Press firmly to move the tissue beneath the skin. You are feeling for any changes. At each "hour", make overlapping circles all the way down to and including the nipple. Don't forget the area under your arms. Change hands and examine the other breast.
  7. Lying down with one arm behind your head, cross your free hand over your body to examine the far breast. Use overlapping circles, and examine the entire breast as described in #6. Change arms and examine the other breast. Using hand lotion may make your fingers more sensitive.
  8. Roll to one side with your wrist on your forehead. Put a towel under your shoulder for support. Examine the outer side of your breast and underarm areas using overlapping circles. Examine both breasts.