How to Give Yourself a Breast Exam

Keep your ta-tas healthy with this DIY guide.

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A Breast Cancer Survivor Demonstrates How to Do a Self Exam (2:25)

The American Cancer Society suggests that all women get familiar with their breasts, so if they notice any changes, they can see their gynecologist right away. Self-exams can lead to more tests, including biopsies, to check out lumps that turn out to be benign, so organizations like the American Cancer Society don’t recommend them. But, many experts still think they can help save lives.

And OBGYN Karen Knapp, MD, of Henrico Doctors’ Hospital, in Richmond, Virginia is one of those experts. As soon as her patients are through puberty, around 12 1/2 years old, she starts breast education. “Sometimes it takes a couple of visits or even a couple of years for patients to get comfortable, but that is fine. There’s no wrong timing,” says Dr. Knapp.

Many experts recommend all women perform a monthly breast self-exam. Knapp says there’s no right or wrong way to perform a self examination, and as long as you’re doing something that works for you, you’re doing it correctly. 

Not sure where to start? Here are some tips that can help.

How to Give Yourself a Breast Exam

Knapp says you’ll want to perform a breast exam both standing up and lying down. Here’s an easy-to-follow guide:  

  1. Raise your left arm while examining your left breast, and raise your right arm while examining your right breast.
  2. To examine your breast, use the flat pads of your fingers rather than your fingertips. “If you use your fingertips, you may push so hard it will hurt. Your fingertips also have a pulse, so it's hard to know what you're feeling,” says Knapp.
  3. Using light, medium or firm pressure, check your breast tissue all the way up through your armpit area. “Think of it like the spokes of a bicycle. Using the flat part of your hand, start at 12:00 and work your way towards the nipple and then out and in, all the way around,” Knapp explains. Be sure to squeeze your nipple to check for any discharge.
  4. It’s important you don’t forget the area around your armpits. “Your breast tissue actually goes into and across your armpits. This area is called the axilla,” says Knapp. Your breast isn’t just the round, central area. Your breast includes your body and chest wall, too.
  5. Lie down and do the whole thing over again. Use a pillow under the shoulder of the breast you’re checking for more comfort.