How to Perform an At-Home Breast Exam

Breast cancer affects 1 out of 8 women in the United States, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. It is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of death among women. It’s recommended that women perform a self-breast exam every month, which can help lead to early detection. This is especially important because nearly half of all breast cancer cases are detected by women who performed an at-home exam. But do you actually know how to perform a breast exam? In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, here’s an at-home breast exam how-to.

When performing a breast exam, you’re looking for anything abnormal concerning your chest. You’re feeling for any unusual lumps or knots in and around your breasts. A change in skin texture, pore size or tenderness in the breast and nipple are also symptoms of breast cancer.

There are three ways you can perform an at-home exam. One is in the shower. Use your fingers and move around your entire breast from the outside in, pressing firmly. Check your entire breast, right up to your armpit area, including your nipples. Make sure your arm is raised behind your head while you’re performing the exam.

The second way to check is in a mirror. This one serves as a visual check as well, because some symptoms of breast cancer can be seen. Some of these symptoms include unexplained swelling or shrinking of the breast, red, scaly and/or swollen skin, and discharge. To perform this exam, look for any noticeable changes in your breasts. Then, place your palms on your hips and flex your chest muscles. You’re looking for dimpling, puckering or differences specifically on one side of your chest.


The third exam method is performed laying down. Laying down allows for your breast tissue to evenly spread out. Place a pillow under one of your shoulders, and raise that same arm behind your head. Like the shower exam, move your fingers around your breast in a circular motion, using varying degrees of pressure. Check your entire breast and armpit area, then move on to your other breast. You should also check your nipples for lumps, tenderness, or abnormal discharge.

Early detection is key to beating breast cancer, so it’s important to do a self-breast exam at least once a month. It’s recommended to do all three ways to be thorough, and it really doesn’t take that long to check. If you notice anything unusual during a self-exam, please see a medical professional about it. And to the men out there: You should be performing exams as well. It’s estimated that a little under 2,200 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. For more information about breast self-exams, or breast cancer in general, visit the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s website.