Self breast exam comprises one portion of the triad of early detection
of breast abnormalities, the other two being professional breast exams
and screening mammography. This is appropriate, as most breast
abnormalities are first discovered by the woman herself.
Once a month, just after completing a menstrual flow, a woman
should examine her breasts. This can be done in the shower, but at
least part of the exam should be done while standing in front of a
Inspect the breasts for:
When raising her arms up, both breasts should rise evenly on the
While raising her arms, she should watch closely for any skin
dimpling or nipple retraction.
With her arm raised, she should feel for lumps with the opposite
Most breast tissue is somewhat nodular. She is feeling for a
"marble in a bag of rice."
She should move her hand in small circles while
compressing the breast tissue.
Then she should move to another area and perform the
same small circular examination.
Many people find it easiest to move in a clockwise
fashion to avoid missing any areas of the breast.
The same circular motion should be used to exam the
armpit and the "tail" of the breast that extends up into the armpit.
In the armpit, she is feeling for any breast lumps or
lymph nodes. Enlarged lymph nodes are about the size of a pencil
eraser, but longer and thinner.
She should try to express nipple discharge by
stripping the ducts towards the nipple.
Normally, there will be one or two drops of clear,
milky or green-tinged secretions.
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Operational Obstetrics & Gynecology
Bureau of Medicine and Surgery
Department of the Navy