Knowing Your Breasts

Author: Karen Arnold-Korzeniowski, MSN RN
Content Contributor: Carolyn Vachani, RN MSN
Last Reviewed: March 01, 2023

It is important to know your breasts to be able to tell if there are any changes. Many people have normal lumps, bumps, and skin changes that are not cancer. Knowing your normal breasts can help you to tell when something has changed.

Breast self-exams (BSE) are no longer a recommended screening tool for people at average risk of breast cancer. Research found that self-exams led to more testing that was not needed and they did not find breast cancer as well as other screening tests. You should talk to your provider to see if you should do self-exams because of your personal history and risk. A self-exam should not be used instead of a mammogram. You should ask about what other screening tests you should have.

How do I get to know my breasts?

Even though BSE is not recommended, many women report having found a breast cancer lump on their own. Because of this, it is important for you to know the normal look and feel of your breasts. Examining your breasts regularly will help you know your normal look and feel.

Your breast tissue changes over the month based on your menstrual cycle (periods). Check your breasts once a month, in the week after your period ends. If you no longer get a period, you can pick a time to check them each month.

Check for changes with your arms by your sides and then arms above your head while standing or sitting in front of a mirror. Feel your breasts using the pads of your fingers. You can do this in the shower or lying in your bed. Use different levels of pressure; light pressure to feel the tissue closest to the skin and heavier pressure to feel the tissue closest to the ribs. Move in a pattern around the breast to feel all areas.

When getting to know your breasts, you should look for:

  • Changes in the size, shape, or color of your breasts.
  • Changes in your skin like puckering, dimpling/indentations, or looking like an orange peel.
  • Any fluid or discharge from your nipples.
  • A nipple that has become pushed in (inverted).
  • Lumps or bumps that are new or changing.
  • A rash or sores on the skin.
  • Any changes that last more than one full menstrual cycle. Keep in mind your hormone levels change during your menstrual cycle. This can change the size and shape of your breasts and can also cause tenderness.

What do you do if you find a lump or change?

There are a few things that can cause a change in your breasts. Changes are not always caused by cancer. If you do find a change, contact your provider. Your provider may want to examine your breasts. They may order imaging tests like an ultrasound, mammogram, MRI, MBI (molecular breast imaging), or a biopsy. You may need more than one test done.

When your provider has the results of these tests, they will discuss them with you and let you know if any treatment is needed.

Resources for More Information

Breastcancer.org: This article has pictures to show you how to do a self-breast exam.

References

American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society Recommendations for the Early Detection of Breast Cancer. 2022.

BreastCancer.org. Breast Self-Exam. 2022.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What is Breast Cancer Screening? 2022.

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