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June 2021

Should You Do a Breast Self-Exam?

Do you know what your breasts look like? Do you know what your breasts feel like? Getting very familiar with what’s normal for you can make a big difference. Even with advanced screening tools available, such as mammograms, some breast cancers are still found through physical exams.

Experts used to recommend that women perform breast self-exams. However, research doesn’t show any clear benefit to following a rigid set of step-by-step instructions for doing them—as long as you’re receiving mammograms. As a result, organizations such as the American Cancer Society (ACS) no longer recommend doing breast self-exams. Instead, the ACS suggests paying attention to what your breasts look and feel like and contacting your health care provider if you notice any changes.

What to watch for

Report any of these visible changes to your healthcare provider:

  • The skin of your breast dimples or puckers

  • Swelling of part of your breast

  • Redness or flaky skin on your nipple or breast

  • Change in the size or shape of your breast

  • Changes with your nipple, such as pushing inward instead of sticking out

  • Nipple discharge (including blood) other than breast milk

Contact your provider if you feel any of these changes:

  • A new lump or hard knot inside your breast or armpit 

  • An area that feels thick inside your breast 

  • Pain in your breast that doesn’t go away

The next step

If you notice a lump or change, don’t get alarmed. These signs usually don’t mean that you have breast cancer. There are common noncancerous breast conditions that can cause symptoms, too. The only way to find out for sure is by making an appointment with your provider to get checked.

Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, BSN, MSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Robert Williams, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 5/1/2021
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