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Breast self-examination is a method a woman can use to examine her breasts for changes such as lumps and irregularities in the breast tissue.
The primary purpose of breast self-examination (BSE) is to familiarize a woman with the normal appearance and feel of her breasts so she can detect changes that may warrant medical evaluation. Though most lumps and irregularities a woman detects through BSE are benign (noncancerous), BSE can result in early discovery of breast cancer.
The risk for breast cancer increases with age and is highest after menopause.
The ideal time to perform BSE is at the end of the menstrual period when the breasts are least sensitive. BSE takes only a few minutes, following these steps:
- Stand in front of a mirror, unclothed, with arms at the sides. Look at the breasts for any indentations, irregularities, or distortions to the shape of the breast.
- Raise the arms and repeat the visual examination.
- With the flat surfaces of the fingers of the left hand, gently feel the right breast starting at the nipple and moving outward in a circular pattern to cover the entire breast. Also feel into the armpit area, which contains breast tissue.
- Gently squeeze the nipple to detect any discharge.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 for the left breast.
- Lie on the back on a flat surface with the right hand behind the head. Repeat steps 3 and 4.
- Switch to put the left hand behind head and repeat steps 3 and 4 for the left breast.
Though BSE primarily targets women, it is good preventive health for men to also become familiar with the appearance and feel of their breasts. Breast cancer is rare but can occur in men. Though lumps in the breast are easier to detect in men, men are more likely to disregard them as insignificant. A doctor should evaluate any lump that develops in a man’s breast.
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