Tips for Performing a Breast Self Exam

Woman doing self breast examination

Mammography is the most effective way to detect breast cancer .  Breast self examinations are sometimes recommended in conjunction with the screening to help women become familiar with the way their breasts normally feel.   This may make worrisome changes more apparent. 


Begin by looking at your breasts in the mirror.  Your shoulders should be straight and your arms by your side, near your hips.  The room should be well lit.

Look for changes in:

  • Size
  • Shape
  • Color
  • Nipple direction and/or fluid coming out of one or both nipples
  • Skin – dimpling, puckering or pulling
  • Redness, rash or swelling

Next, raise your arms above your head and look for the same changes.  Then place your hands on your hips and tighten your chest muscles.


When you are done at the mirror, lie down on a comfortable surface and put your left hand behind your head.

Place the middle fingers of your right hand on the top portion of your left breast (in the 12 o’clock position).   In a circular motion, about the size of a quarter, feel for anything unusual.  Use firm, but gentle pressure.  Move in a clockwise direction slowly around the entire breast until you are back where you began.  Then, move in one inch towards the nipple and repeat the same motions around the clock.  Continue until the entire breast is examined. 

Repeat this pattern by placing your right hand behind your head and using your left hand to examine your right breast.

Gently squeeze each nipple to check for discharge.


The shower is a common place for women to examine their breasts.  Feeling for lumps and thickenings is often easiest when the skin is wet and slippery.  It is also important to check your armpits.  Place your left hand on your hip and use your right hand to feel your left armpit. Then, repeat on the other side.

Any breast changes should be reported to your doctor as soon as possible.

The Breast Care Center at Regional Medical Center of San Jose has invested in the most accurate equipment available for mammography, breast ultrasound and stereotactic biopsy.  Regional’s Breast Care Center is accredited by the American College of Radiology (ACR).  For more information, contact us at (408) 259-4000.

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