When doing a breast self-exam, a good way to do them is to do it systematically.
The correct time interval between breast self-exams is once per menstrual cycle. If you check your breasts at the same time each period, then the effects of the differing levels of oestrogens and progesterone during the menstrual cycle can be ignored. For post-menopausal women, once a month is a good interval.
First of all, stand in front of a mirror and remove all articles of clothing above the waist. Face square on to the mirror, with your arms by your side. Have a good look at your breasts. Ensure that they are the same shape that you're used to and that there are no new bumps or dimples in the skin.
Now, raise your arms straight above your head. By pulling your breasts upwards, you are stretching the skin over your breasts and this makes observation of any abnormality just beneath the skin more visible. Examine closely again for dimples, redness and anything that may be abnormal. Also look at your nipples and areolae and ensure that nothing's changed since the last time you examined them.
Having finished observation, go on to palpation. It is good practice to go in a set manner from quadrant to quadrant in your breasts. The following order is recommended:
medial upper quadrant --> medial lower quadrant --> lateral lower quadrant --> lateral upper quadrant
When palpating, feel with the palm of your hand, rather than with the tips of the fingers. Make sure you go over every part of your breast, pressing your breast tissue against your chest wall to feel for any lumps. After having done this once, repeat the process with your hand on your hip and pressing into your hip - this tenses up the anterior chest wall muscles and makes detection of a lump easier.
Remember to check along the "axillary tail" of the breast which is in the upper outer quadrant towards the shoulder and also around and underneath the nipple too.
It is reported that feeling for lumps is actually easier while showering - somehow the soapy water makes lumps more palpable.
The statistics show about 1 in 11 women will develop breast cancer sometime in their life, so it's a good idea to be educated and, if you have it, to have it treated early.
Note that breast self examinations are not recommended as the only method of early breast cancer detection. Please consult with your family doctor for further information.
If you do find a lump, do not panic. There is a good chance that the lump is benign. Go and visit your local or family doctor for a professional opinion.
updated - February 26th, 2002.