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How to do a breast exam

Breast cancer is a term used to describe different types of cancer that develop in the breast tissue of both women and men. It is treatable if detected early, but as it can’t be prevented, it is important to do regular exams of one’s breasts. 

There are several factors that can cause or increase the risk of breast cancer. This includes genetic, environmental, hormonal and nutritional factors. If you have a genetic predisposition, it is very important that you go for regular check-ups and do self-examinations at least once a month.

Early detection is key, and any changes in the breast should be monitored. Consult your doctor if any of the following occurs:

  • Sudden change in shape or size of one or both breasts
  • Lumps in the breast tissue
  • Change in nipple size or colour
  • Swelling under the arm
  • Unusual nipple discharge


There are 3 ways to do a home breast exam according to National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc.:

In the shower:

Starting from the outside of the breast, use the pads of your fingers and move them in a circular motion in towards the centre of the breast. It is important to cover the entire breast and armpit area, checking for lumps, thickening or hardened knots. If you do feel anything unusual, go to your doctor. 

In front of the mirror:

Visually inspect your breasts with your arms at your sides. Next, raise your arms high overhead. Look for any changes in the shape of your breast, any swelling, or dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples. Next, rest your palms on your hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles. Left and right breasts will not exactly match, so look for any dimpling, puckering, or changes, particularly on one side.

Lying down:

When lying down, the breast tissue spreads out evenly along the chest wall. Place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently in small circular motions. Just as before, remember to cover the entire breast and armpit area. Alternate between light, medium and firm pressure. Squeeze the nipple; check for discharge and lumps. Repeat these steps for your left breast.

Breast cancer can affect anyone, so it is important to spread awareness. It goes far beyond wearing a pink ribbon. There is a lot of information available and support groups that you can join. Remember to check your breasts regularly and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

National Breast Cancer Foundation Inc. (https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-self-exam/)