Answers to Questions about Self Breast-Exams

You have probably heard that you should be doing a monthly breast self-exam, but are you doing it? Many women don’t because they forget or they don’t think that it makes a difference or they’re not really sure how. We know you have questions, and we have some answers. Below are some of the concerns we hear most often. If you have others, please post them in the comment section or send an email to

Does a monthly breast self-exam really work? Some women tell us that their breasts are so lumpy that they can’t tell what is normal and what is not. Doing a monthly exam will help you become familiar with what is normal. As you become more familiar with your body, you will be more likely to detect changes.

Does it really make a difference?  Yes! The earlier breast cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat. You generally only see your doctor and get a mammogram once a year so it is important to monitor yourself the rest of the time. Nearly 70 percent of all breast cancers are found through self-exams, and with early detection the 5-year survival rate is 98 percent, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Why does it need to be done every month? Performing a breast self-exam each month allows you to become familiar with what your breasts “normally” feel like.  That way if there ever is a change, you are much more likely to pick up on it, and sooner.  Performing an exam more frequently than monthly is discouraged because that doesn’t give your breasts time to change significantly enough to feel a difference.  Monthly is the most effective frequency.

Does it matter what time of the month?  The best time to examine yourself is several days after your period ends, when your breasts are less likely to be swollen and tender.  However, more important than the time of month, is actually doing the exam!  If it is easier to remember to do your exam every month when you pay the mortgage or give your dog his heart worm pill, then that’s when you should do it.

Does it matter what time of the day?  Not really. Some people will find it easier to remember in the morning when they’re getting dressed or taking a shower; others prefer evening when they’re not thinking about a long list of things to do.

If I find something unusual, what should I do and how quickly?  First of all – don’t panic!  Many women feel something during their breast self-exam, and most of the time it is normal breast tissue. In fact, 8 out of 10 lumps are not cancerous, the National Breast Cancer Foundation reports. If you feel something that is definitely new and different from your last exam, you can contact your healthcare provider and let them know what you are feeling.  They may want you to come in for a visit to perform a clinical breast exam.  If you’re unsure of a change, wait a week or two and perform another self-exam.  If at that point you are still feeling something that feels different from what you are used to, call your healthcare provider to set up an appointment for a clinical exam.

How to do a self breast-exam

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