Breast Self-exam (BSE)
What Is a Breast Self-exam?
A breast self-exam (BSE) is a step-by-step examination of your breasts that you do yourself. It is one tool that can be used to help detect changes in your breasts that might be a sign of cancer. It is a way for you to notice any changes, lumps, or abnormalities in your breasts. It is also a chance for you to become familiar with what is normal for your breasts.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that all women aged 20 years and older talk to their doctor about the benefits, harms, and limitations of breast self-exams. While BSE continues to be widely promoted, there is no evidence showing a decrease in death among women who do these self-exams. Women can choose to do BSE regularly, occasionally, or never. However, even if you never do a step-by-step self exam, you should still be familiar with your body and report any changes to your doctor.
If you and your doctor decide you will do breast self-exams, here is the best way to go about doing it. Do your breast self-exam when your breasts are not swollen or tender. Follow these guidelines from the ACS:
Steps for a Breast Self-exam
- Light pressure to feel tissue beneath the skin
- Medium pressure to feel deeper tissue
- Firm pressure to feel tissue near the chest and ribs
A firm ridge in the lower curve of each breast is normal.
Remember that breast changes are not always due to cancer. But, if you do notice lumps or other abnormalities, call your doctor right away.
If you are unsure as to whether you should do a BSE, talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks.
- Michael Woods, MD
- Reviewed: 01/2016
- Updated: 03/11/2014
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