Your Guide to Breast Self-Examination

20 Jun, 2024

Table of Content

This article is medically reviewed by Dr. Tanay Shah, Consultant- Surgical Oncology and Breast Cancer Specialist, HCG Cancer Centre, Ahmedabad

Monthly breast self-examination (BSE) is a crucial practice that can help you stay ahead of breast cancer. While many women are familiar with breast self-examinations, some might still question if they are doing it correctly. Several women ask about how to check breast cancer at home.

This article provides all the information you need to know about conducting a proper breast self-examination.

What is Breast Self-Examination?

Breast self-examination, or self-breast examination, is a simple breast cancer screening tool.

"Regular breast self-examinations are essential as they empower women to understand their bodies and detect changes early. While not a replacement for mammograms, self-exams are crucial for early detection, increasing the chances of successful treatment and better outcomes." Dr. Tanay Shah

A breast self-examination involves a woman examining her breasts with her hands periodically at home in a systematic, stepwise fashion.

This helps women become familiar with the look and feel of their breasts and immediately notice when something is not normal. It also helps detect breast lumps that may or may not be cancerous.

Why should you do a Breast Self-Exam?

Many are not aware of the importance of breast self-exams. Performing self-breast examination helps one in many ways. Most importantly, self-breast examination makes early detection of breast cancer possible.

The following are a few reasons why you should consider breast self-exams every month:

Here is a short video on the importance of breast self-examination and mammography. Watch this till the end to learn common misconceptions about these procedures and facts that you should know.

How Often Should You Do a Breast Self-Exam?

Five Breast Self-Examination Steps to Consider

To make breast self-examination easy for you, we have broken down the entire procedure into five steps, and they are listed here. Please follow these breast self-exam steps every month.

"For effective breast self-examinations, adhere to these steps: Observe your breasts in front of a mirror, lift your arms, inspect for discharge, palpate for lumps while lying down, and repeat while standing. Consistency and thoroughness are vital for early detection of any changes." Dr. Tanay Shah

Breast Self Exam: General Tips to Consider


1. What kind of lumps are normal to feel in your breasts?

It is important to note that not all breast lumps are cancerous. Breasts have a nodular or lumpy texture, which can vary based on age, hormonal changes, and individual anatomy. Lumps may occur due to fibrocystic changes, fibroadenoma, lobular carcinoma in situ, fat necrosis and lipomas, and cysts. The doctor should comprehensively evaluate any type of lump. It is important to know what abnormalities indicate the presence of breast cancer.

2. How often should one do a breast self-exam?

Women are advised to perform breast self-examination at least once every month, preferably a few days after their menstrual period. It is important to follow the recommended breast self-examination procedure during the examination to optimize the results.

3. When to Contact Your Doctor?

The women should not ignore any of the symptoms of breast cancer or any other serious underlying disease detected during breast self-examination. It is important to seek care from a breast surgical oncology service provider in case women experience new or persistent lumps, nipple discharge, altered skin of the breasts, and pain in the breasts. Women, especially those who are at high risk, should consult the doctor to discuss the measures to reduce breast cancer risk.

Watch this video where one of our specialists shares the measures you can take to reduce your breast cancer risk:


Regular breast self-examination is a vital, non-invasive tool for early breast cancer detection, raising awareness of breast health, and improving overall quality of life. Conduct these exams monthly to familiarize yourself with your breasts and promptly detect any abnormalities. Always consult your doctor if you notice any unusual changes.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. When should women begin breast self-examination?

Beginning at age 20, women should perform self-breast exams every month for the rest of their lives.

  1. Can I self-examine my breasts during my periods?

The ideal time to perform your monthly breast self-examination is one week after your monthly period ends.

Some women experience tenderness in their breasts during their periods, and self-breast exams during this time can cause discomfort. Therefore, you should examine your breasts sometime after your period ends.

  1. Can I self-examine my breasts during my pregnancy?

Some reports suggest that breast self-examinations may not be effective during pregnancy as the size of milk ducts tends to change rapidly, especially during the last trimester.

Nevertheless, it is safe to get familiar with your breasts during your pregnancy so you can alert your doctor if you come across something that is unusual and needs medical attention.

For more information on self-examining your breasts during pregnancy, please talk to your gynecologist or primary physician.

  1. Should I visit a hospital for my breast self-examination?

No, you need not visit a hospital for your breast self-examination.

  1. Is breast self-examination necessary after mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgery?

Yes, the other breast that was not affected by cancer will still need screening. Also, if autologous tissue is used for breast reconstruction, screening will become necessary for the reconstructed breast.

For more information on better screening guidance after breast reconstruction surgery, it is important to talk to a breast cancer specialist.

  1. Do I need mammography if I am self-examining my breasts every month?

Breast self-examination is a tool that can help women find out if any changes may point toward various benign and malignant breast problems. However, mammography, on the other hand, provides you with detailed information about your breast health.

Mammography can detect different anomalies, namely cysts, calcifications, and tumors, and can play a significant role in helping you make informed health decisions. Therefore, breast self-examination should not be considered as a substitute for mammography.

  1. If my breasts appear to be different in size during my self-exam, is that a sign of breast cancer?

It is normal for women to have uneven breasts or nipples. However, if the breasts vary in size by over 20%, it may indicate the risk of breast cancer. You should immediately consult your primary care physician or gynecologist for a proper evaluation.

  1. What should I do if I find a lump or any other abnormalities during my breast self-exam?

Do not panic. In most cases, lumps found in the breasts and armpits are non-cancerous. However, consult a breast cancer specialist and report your observations. You may have to take further tests, like mammography and ultrasound, for a conclusive diagnosis.

  1. How long does a breast exam take?

Breast self-examination typically takes about 10 to 15 minutes to complete. During this time, the patient should properly follow the breast examination steps to thoroughly inspect and feel each part of the breast tissue, including the underarm area, using different positions and pressure levels to ensure a detailed check.

  1. What are the problems with doing a breast check self-exam?

Some of the potential problems with breast self-examination are false positive and false positive results, technique variability, overconfidence, anxiety, and stress. Further, the evidence is mixed for the effectiveness of breast self-examination in the detection of breast cancer.

  1. Is a self-breast exam better than a mammogram?

A self-breast exam is not better than a mammogram; they complement each other. Mammograms are more accurate for early detection of breast cancer and can find tumors that cannot be felt. Self-exams help you become familiar with your breasts and notice changes between mammograms. Both are crucial for comprehensive breast health.


Self Breast Examination: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK565846/

Breast Self-Exam: https://www.breastcancer.org/screening-testing/breast-self-exam-bse

Breast Self-Exam: National Breast Cancer Foundation: https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-self-exam/

Breast Cancer / Self Breast Examination: https://screening.iarc.fr/breastselfexamination.php

A Guide to Checking Your Boobs (Breasts): https://www.nhslanarkshire.scot.nhs.uk/services/adult-learning-disability-service/womens-health/breast-self-exam/

About the Author

Author Bio : Dr. Tanay Shah

MBBS, MS (General Surgery), DNB (Surgical Oncology)
Consultant – Surgical Oncology (Breast Cancer Specialist)

Dr. Tanay Shah is a seasoned surgical oncology consultant practicing at HCG Cancer Centre, Ahmedabad, a comprehensive cancer hospital in Ahmedabad. Dr. Tanay Shah specializes in the surgical management of breast, head and neck, gynecological, and GI oncological cancers. He is highly skilled in endoscopy including upper gastrointestinal tract endoscopy, colonoscopy, fiberoptic laryngoscopy, and bronchoscopy. His expertise has been recognized by his peers and he has participated in many oncology conferences and CMEs, which have significantly helped him hone his skills as a surgical oncologist.

To book an appointment with Dr. Tanay Shah, click here.

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