What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is cancer that forms in the cells of the breasts. It is the most common cancer diagnosed in women around the world. Breast cancer can occur in both men and women, but it is far more common in women. There are many types of breast cancer. Discuss with your doctor for more information about breast cancer and the different types.

How to do a self-breast exam?

Sit or stand shirtless and braless in front of a mirror with your arms at your sides. To inspect your breasts visually, do the following:

  •  Face forward and look for puckering, dimpling, or changes in size, shape or symmetry.
  • Check to see if your nipples are turned in (inverted).
  • Inspect your breasts with your hands pressed down on your hips.
  • Inspect your breasts with your arms raised overhead and the palms of your hands pressed together.
  • Lift your breasts to see if ridges along the bottom are symmetrical.

If you have a vision impairment that makes it difficult for you to visually inspect your breasts, ask a trusted friend or a family member to help you.

Use the pads of your fingers
Use the pads, not the very tips, of your three middle fingers for the exam. If you have difficulty feeling with your finger pads, use another part of your hand that is more sensitive, such as your palm or the backs of your fingers.

Use different pressure levels
Your goal is to feel different depths of the breast by using different levels of pressure to feel all the breast tissue. Use light pressure to feel the tissue closest to the skin, medium pressure to feel a little deeper, and firm pressure to feel the tissue closest to the chest and ribs. Be sure to use each pressure level before moving on to the next spot. If you’re not sure
how hard to press, talk with your doctor or nurse.

Take your time
Don’t rush. It may take several minutes to carefully examine your breasts.

Follow a pattern
Use a methodical technique to ensure you examine your entire breast. For instance, imagine the face of a clock over your breast or the slices of a pie. Begin near your collarbone and examine that section, moving your fingers toward your nipple. Then move your fingers to the next section.

If you have a disability that makes it difficult to examine your breasts using this technique, you likely can still conduct a breast self-exam. Ask your doctor to show you ways you can examine your breasts.

When to contact your doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice:

  • You cannot do your self breast exam on your own
  • A hard lump or knot near your underarm
  • Changes in the way your breasts look or feel, including thickening or prominent fullness that is different from the surrounding tissue
  • Dimples, puckers, bulges or ridges on the skin of your breast
  • A recent change in a nipple to become pushed in (inverted) instead of sticking out
  • Redness, warmth, swelling or pain
  • Itching, scales, sores or rashes
  • Bloody nipple discharge


Used with permission of Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, all rights reserved.

“Breast Cancer symptoms and causes” Mayo Clinic

Used with permission of the American Cancer Society, all rights reserved.


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