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Breast Self-Examination (BSE)

According to statistics, 70% of breast cancer lumps are discovered by women during a breast self-examination, or BSE. Early detection of breast cancer is essential for a favorable prognosis. Medical experts recommend that all women over 20 years of age conduct a monthly breast self-examination to look for lumps and other breast changes.

While a breast self-examination is an excellent tool for the early detection of breast cancer, it does have its limitations. A breast self examination should not take the place of regular clinical examinations and mammogram screenings at the recommended time.

Steps for Breast Self-Examination

Some say that a breast self-examination is best when performed three to five days after your period, as this is the time when breasts are least likely to be swollen or tender due to hormonal changes. The following are the doctor-recommended steps to a monthly breast self-examination.

  1. Look at breasts in mirror with shoulders straight and arms on hips. During this portion of a breast self examination, a woman should look for the following: nipple discharge, the skin or nipple dimpling, puckering or bulging, a change in nipple position or an inverted nipple, redness, soreness, rash, swelling, or any other abnormalities. These should be discussed further with your doctor.
  2. Check for the same characteristics with your arms above your head. Also look at skin of the armpit for any changes or unusual characteristics, as the breast tissue often extends to this area.
  3. Squeeze each nipple to look for discharge. This discharge could be a milky, bloody, or yellowish fluid.
  4. Lie on back, lift one arm above, and place the same hand behind head. With the middle fingers of the opposite hand, gently but firmly move fingers, flat and together, in small circular motions covering all areas of breast and armpit. Start with lighter touch and increase pressure to feel the deeper layers of the tissue. Look for any lump or changes in the breast that stand out or feel new.

Be sure to feel the entire breast - from the armpit to the cleavage, the collarbone to the top of the abdomen. This can be done using a circular pattern from the center out, in rows as you would mow a lawn, or any other way that allows you to cover all of the breast.

A breast self examination can be done in or out of the shower, at any time of the day. The whole breast self examination does not take a very long time, though it is important to be mindful of what you are feeling and take your time to conduct your breast self examination thoroughly and properly. If you are unsure about how to conduct a breast self-examination, your physician can demonstrate how to do the test at home. If you notice anything unusual during a breast self-examination, it is wise to speak with your doctor.