When should I do BSE?
By doing BSE regularly, you get to know how your breasts normally feel so that you’ll be better able to detect any change. You should begin practicing breast self-examination by age 20 and continue the practice monthly throughout your life — even during pregnancy and after menopause.
For menstruating women
If you still menstruate, the best time to do BSE is several days, or about a week, after your period ends. These are the days when your breasts are least likely to be tender or swollen.
For menopausal women
If you no longer menstruate, pick a certain day — such as the first day of each month — to remind yourself to do BSE.
If you are taking hormones, talk with your physician about when to do BSE.
What should I be looking for?
Check with your physician if you find any change in your breast(s) that causes you concern.
Changes in your breasts may include:
- Development of a lump
- A discharge other than breast milk
- Swelling of the breast
- Skin irritation or dimpling
- Nipple abnormalities (such as pain, redness, scaliness, turning inward)
So how do I do it?
- Check the skin
Stand in front of a mirror that is large enough for you to see your breasts clearly. Check each breast for anything unusual. Check the skin for puckering, dimpling, or scaliness. Gently squeeze each nipple and look for a discharge.
- Check the shape
Watching closely in the mirror, clasp your hands behind your head and press your hands forward.
Next, press your hands firmly on your hips and bend slightly toward the mirror as you pull your shoulders and elbows forward. Do steps 2 and 3 to check for any change in the shape or contour of your breasts. As you do these steps, you should feel your chest muscles tighten.
- Check for lumps
Raise one arm. Use the pads of the fingers of your other hand to check the breast and the surrounding area firmly, carefully and thoroughly.
Some women like to use lotion or powder to help their fingers glide easily over the skin, so they can concentrate on feeling for changes underneath. Others like to do it in the shower where soap has the same effect.
Feel the tissue by pressing your fingers in small, overlapping areas about the size of a dime. Check for any unusual lump or mass under the skin. To be sure you cover your whole breast, take your time and follow a definite pattern.
The important thing is to cover the whole breast and to pay special attention to the area between the breast and the underarm, including the underarm itself. Check the area above the breast, up to the collarbone and all the way over to your shoulder.
- Change position
Lie flat on your back, with one arm over your head and a pillow or folded towel under the shoulder. This position flattens the breast and makes it easier to check. Check each breast and the area around it very carefully using one of the patterns described above.
What do I do if I find a lump?
One of the most frightening moments for a woman is if she feels something different or unusual while performing breast self-examination.
If you find a lump, don’t panic.
If you discover a lump in one breast or feel something "different" in the tissue, examine the same spot in the opposite breast. Usually if the same area in the opposite breast feels the same there is little need for worry.
However, if they feel different, or you feel a definite lump, there may be valid reason for concern and it is important to contact your physician right away. Sometimes the lumpiness may be due to menstrual changes — however, if there’s any discharge from your nipples or skin changes such as dimpling or puckering, your physician may want to see you right away.
It is natural to be frightened when discovering a lump, but do not let the prospect of cancer delay you from taking action.
Remember that 80 percent of all breast lumps are benign (non-cancerous).