According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  In honor of this month, we researched how you can do a visual and physical examination on yourself at home.  After your self-examination, we describe normal and abnormal results.

Who should do a self-examination?

Any individual with breasts should conduct self-examinations, including cisgendered women, transmen, and transgender women.  A study that was conducted in the Netherlands found that transgender women that receive hormone treatment such as testosterone blockers, estrogen, and progesterone are at a lower risk of developing breast cancer than cisgendered women.  Although the risk is lower than cisgendered women, transgender women are still at risk of developing breast cancer.

What age should I begin self-examinations?

We recommend you begin self-examinations in your early 20s.  

When should I do a self-examination?

We recommend that you conduct these examinations about three to five days after your period.  If you are in the post-menopausal stage, conduct this self-examination once a month.  

Look at Your Breasts in the Mirror

Stand in front of a mirror without a shirt on.  Your arms may rest at the sides of your body.  To make sure you are doing the visual examination correctly, complete the following:

  • Look for any changes to your breasts.  Changes may be in size, shape, symmetry, dimpling or puckering.  Dimpling/Puckering refers to sunken breast tissue, sometimes can mimic the color and texture of an orange peel.  
  • Make sure your nipples do not concave into your body.
  • Place your hands down at your sides by your hip.  Squeeze your elbows inwards to inspect your breasts from this angle.
  • Raise your hands above your head.  Clasp your hands together at the top and examine your breasts from this angle.
  • Check to see if the ridges beneath your breasts are proportional.

Use Your Hands 

Lie on your back and complete the following tasks:

  • With one arm above the head, examine the breast on the same side as the arm that is behind the head using the pads of your fingers.  Make sure you use different pressure levels (light, medium, and hard) to feel hard lumps in the breast tissue.
  • You can examine your breasts in three patterns:
    • Up and down
    • Inwards towards the nipple
    • Clockwise or counterclockwise circling the nipple
  • Make sure to continue this self-examination into your armpit.  Breast tissue is located there as well.
  • To check for discharge, carefully squeeze each nipple.  

Normal Results

Depending on which point you are in the menstrual cycle, you may find some changes in the breast tissue such as soft, squishy lumps.  This is normal.  You do not need to contact your doctor at this time.

Abnormal Results 

If you notice any of the following changes to your breast tissue, we suggest you make an appointment with your doctor immediately:

  • Dimpling or puckering
  • Hard lumps in your breasts or armpits
  • Inverted nipples
  • Nipple discharge (not milk if you are breastfeeding)
  • Redness or swelling
  • Discomfort or pain

These symptoms could be indicators of the early stages of breast cancer and you may need to seek treatment from medical professionals.

Overall, we want to stress the importance of self-examination of your breasts regularly.  This self-examination guide can help you identify the symptoms of breast cancer, seek medical treatment immediately, and save your life.