The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Breast self-examination

Breast self-examination (BSE) is an easy but unreliable method for finding possible breast cancer.

BSE is a useful screening tool, particularly in women who have a family history of breast cancer. If performed appropriately and regularly it can help in early detection of some types of breast cancers. The method involves trying to feel breasts for possible distortions or swelling. The steps involved in self exam are:

  • Stand in front of a mirror with top exposed.
  • Place hands on hips.
  • Look for signs of dimpling, swelling, soreness or redness in all parts of your breasts in the mirror.
  • Repeat with arms raised above your head.
  • While still standing, palpate your breasts with your fingers, feeling for lumps. Try to use a larger area of your fingers rather than prodding. Feel both for the area just beneath the skin and for the tissue deeper within.
  • Go over the entire breast should be covered while examining - a useful method is to divide the breast into quadrants and go through each quadrant carefully. Also examine the "axillary tail" of each breast that points towards the axilla (armpit).
  • Repeat palpation while lying down.
  • Check the nipples and the area just beneath them. Gently squeeze each nipple to check for any discharge.

For premenopausal women, BSE is best done at the same stage of their period every month to minimize changes due to the menstrual cycle - the recommended time is just following the end of the last period when the breasts are least likely to be swollen and tender. Older, menopausal women should do BSE once a month, perhaps on the first or last day of every month.

About eight in ten lumps discovered on BSE are harmless. Nevertheless, any abnormality thus detected should immediately be reported to a doctor. Though most breast cancers are detected by women, BSE should be combined with an annual examination by a doctor for better chances of detection. Women can easily miss a breast lump that an expert can find. For the same reasons it is better to learn BSE from an expert. It is not a replacement for more trustworthy techniques like mammography.

Note: consult a trustworthy site such as for more complete and up-to-date information.

Last updated: 08-18-2005 17:13:34