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  • 24 May 2024
  • Mr A. Siddiqui

Last updated on May 17, 2024

Early detection is key in the fight against breast cancer. A breast self-exam (breast self exam) is a simple, proactive approach you can take at home to become familiar with the look and feel of your breasts, allowing you to identify any changes that might warrant further evaluation by a healthcare professional. Here, our expert cosmetic surgery clinic in Manchester will guide you through the steps of performing a breast self exam, discuss the importance of breast awareness and self exams if you have had breast augmentation, and answer common questions you might have.

Why is Breast Self-Exam Important?

Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women globally. While some risk factors are not controllable, early detection can significantly improve treatment outcomes and survival rates.

  • Breast Cancer Risk

    1 in 7 women in the UK will develop this cancer in their lifetime.

  • Early Detection is Crucial

    NHS statistics show a 95% survival rate for 5 or more years for women diagnosed with the earliest stage of breast cancer.

  • Importance of Awareness

    A YouGov survey found only 53% of women aged 18-39 in the UK check their breasts regularly, highlighting the need for increased awareness about breast self-exam.

  • Self-Examination and Early Detection

    Studies suggest self-awareness can lead to earlier detection. A British Journal of Cancer review concluded women who are more breast aware are more likely to detect cancer early.

  • BSE as a Complementary Tool

    The NHS recommends mammograms as the primary screening tool, but BSE can be valuable, especially for women between 25-40 when mammograms are less frequent.

A breast self exam empowers you to become an active participant in your breast health by enabling you to detect any changes in your breasts early on.

While a breast self exam cannot definitively diagnose breast cancer, it can be a valuable tool for learning the normal look and feel of your breasts so you can identify potential abnormalities that require further investigation by a healthcare professional. Remember, a lump doesn’t always mean cancer, but any changes should be reported to your doctor for a clinical breast exam.

Breast Self Exam | Breast Cancer Screening | Monthly Breast Self Examination | National Cancer Institute UK | Breast and Body Clinic UK
Monthly breast self exams are essential for developing breast awareness and picking up any abnormalities between annual cancer screenings. Try out these easy examination techniques below.

Who Should Perform a Breast Self-Exam?

Women of all ages can benefit from performing a self breast exam. While there’s no specific age to start, it’s a good idea to become familiar with the look and feel of your breasts from a young age. This baseline knowledge will help you recognise any future changes.
Here are some situations where a breast self exam might be particularly important:

  • Women with a family history of breast cancer who are concerned about finding breast cancer
  • Women who are concerned about changes in their breasts
  • Women aged 40 and above

Breast Self-Exams with Implants

Women with breast implants can still benefit from performing a regular self breast exam as it promotes breast self awareness and helps check for any changes in breast tissue between mammograms. The implant itself might make some areas feel different, but it shouldn’t prevent you from checking your entire breast tissue. Focus on feeling for lumps or abnormalities around the implant and in your natural breast tissue. If you have any concerns, consult your doctor for guidance and a clinical breast exam.

It’s important to note that a breast self exam is not a replacement for regular mammograms for finding breast cancer. Mammography is a breast cancer screening tool that can detect breast cancer and other abnormalities even before they can be felt during a self-exam.

How to Perform a Breast Self-Exam

The best time to perform a breast self exam is typically during the week after your period ends. During this time in your monthly cycle, your breasts are less likely to be tender or swollen due to hormonal fluctuations.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to perform a monthly breast self exam:

    1. Visual Examination in the Mirror:

      • Stand undressed in front of a well-lit mirror with your arms at your sides. Look for any changes in the size, shape, or symmetry of your breasts, performing the exam on both your right and left breast.
      • With arms raised overhead, examine your breasts to look for any dimpling, puckering, or changes in the skin texture.
      • Gently squeeze your nipples and check for any discharge, which can be clear, bloody, or milky.
    2. Examine Your Breasts While Lying Down:

      • Lie down on your back on a flat surface and place a pillow under your right shoulder. Raise your right arm overhead.
      • Examine your breasts using the pads of your three middle fingers of your left hand, feel your entire right breast in a circular motion, starting at the outer edge and moving inwards towards the nipple. Be sure to cover all areas, including the upper chest, armpit, and under the breast.
      • Repeat the same circular motion with varying pressure levels (light, medium, firm pressure) to ensure you’re feeling all the tissue.
      • After examining your right breast, repeat the steps on your left breast, placing the pillow under your left shoulder and using your middle fingers on your right hand for the examination.
    3. Feeling Your Breasts While Standing or Sitting:

      • You can also perform the same circular motions with your three middle fingers with varying pressure while standing or sitting, using light pressure, then medium and firm pressure This can sometimes help detect changes like breast swelling that you might not feel while lying down.

Remember: It’s normal to feel some lumps or bumps in your breasts during monthly breast self exams. These are often related to your menstrual cycle or tissue variations. However, any new or persistent changes, such as lumps, dimpling, changes in nipple appearance, or unusual discharge, should be reported to your doctor so they can do an exam and physical diagnosis.

Breast Self Exam | Breast Augmentation | Breast Implants | National Cancer Institute UK | Breast Cancer Screening | Monthly Breast Self Examination | Breast and Body Clinic UK
If you have had breast implants or breast augmentation, it is important to do a monthly breast self exam to check for breast changes. This simple, quick routine empowers your breast health awareness.

Tips for a Successful Breast Self-Exam

  • Consistency is Key

    Perform your breast self exam regularly, ideally at the same time each month in your menstrual cycle to establish a baseline and be able to identify any changes effectively.

  • Know Your Own Breasts

    Familiarise yourself with the normal look and feel of your breasts so you can recognise any deviations.

  • Don’t Panic

    Finding a lump or breast swelling doesn’t necessarily mean cancer. Many breast lumps are benign (non-cancerous). However, it’s crucial to report any breast changes to your doctor for evaluation.

  • Report Any Change

    If you notice any new or unusual changes in your breasts, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider for a professional breast exam. Early detection is crucial for successful treatment.

Monthly breast self-exams are a valuable tool for breast self awareness. By familiarising yourself with the look and feel of your breasts and performing regular breast self exams, you can become more attuned to any potential changes and report them to your healthcare provider for further evaluation. Remember, early detection is key in the fight against breast cancer. In conjunction with regular breast cancer screening and a healthy lifestyle, breast self-exams can empower you to take charge of your breast health.

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How often should I perform a breast self exam?

It’s recommended to examine your breasts once a month, ideally during the week following the end of your menstrual period.

What if I find a lump during a breast self exam?

Don’t panic. Most lumps are benign. However, it’s essential to report any new or unusual changes, including nipple discharge, lumps, or swelling, to your healthcare provider. They can perform a physical examination and may recommend further tests, such as a mammogram or ultrasound, to determine the cause of the lump and diagnose benign and malignant diseases.

Can a breast self exam replace a mammogram?

No. A breast self exam is a complementary tool for breast awareness, but it cannot replace a mammogram. Mammography is a powerful cancer screening tool that can detect breast disease and abnormalities even before they can be felt during a self-exam. Schedule regular mammograms according to your doctor’s recommendations, typically starting at age 40 or earlier if you have a high risk of breast cancer.

What if I’m pregnant or breastfeeding?

Your breasts naturally undergo changes during pregnancy and breastfeeding. While a breast self exam can still be performed, the hormonal fluctuations might make it more challenging to detect abnormalities. If you’re concerned about any breast changes during this time, discuss them with your doctor.

Are there any risks associated with a breast self exam?

There are no real risks associated with performing a monthly breast self exam. It’s a safe and non-invasive procedure. However, some women might experience anxiety if they find a lump. Remember, early detection of cancer is crucial, so don’t hesitate to report any changes to your doctor for evaluation.

Do breast implants make breast self-exams (BSE) more difficult?

Breast implants and breast augmentation can alter the way your breasts feel during breast self exams. The implant itself might feel firmer or smoother than your natural breast tissue. However, this shouldn’t prevent you from performing a self-exam. It’s important to focus on feeling for lumps or abnormalities around the implant and within your natural breast tissue.

How can I adjust my BSE technique with breast implants?

While the basic steps of breast self exams remain the same, including performing it each month in the week after your period ends, here are some tips for women with implants:

  • Be aware of the different textures

    Familiarise yourself with how the implant feels compared to your natural breast tissue.

  • Focus on feeling around the implant

    Carefully feel the entire breast tissue on one breast and then the other, paying close attention to the areas above, below, and around the sides of the implant.

  • Use varied pressure

    Apply gentle, medium, and firm pressure during your self-examination to ensure you’re feeling all the tissue.

Remember, if you have any concerns about changes in your breast tissue or how they feel during a breast self exam, consult your doctor for personalised guidance.

Mr A. Siddiqui
About The Author

Mr A. Siddiqui

Mr Siddiqui is a Consultant Plastic and Cosmetic Surgeon, based at The Countess of Chester Hospital in the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. He trained extensively in plastic surgery before becoming a Consultant in the NHS and developing a private practice in Manchester and other areas of the Northwest. He is considered to be one of the top 10 cosmetic surgeons in Manchester.

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