How often should I do a breast self-exam?

Advertisement
Advertisement
In general I recommend that women perform monthly breast self-examinations. If you are having menstrual periods, perform the exam about 7-10 days after your period starts -- the breasts will be less lumpy and tender at that time. If you are post-menopausal, pick a day each month -- the first of the month, the day your birthday falls on -- to do your exam. It's important that when you are performing your exam you are getting an idea of your normal breast tissue, and if you note any changes, report them to your physician.
Susanne M. Chow, MD
Diagnostic Radiology
Breast self-exam should be performed once a month. 
Because your breasts change throughout your monthly menstrual cycle, you should establish a regular schedule to examine your breasts, and that time should be when your breasts are not tender or swollen. You can use the day your period ends as a reminder that your monthly self-breast examination is due. Most breast cancer organizations recommend that you should begin self-examinations to become aware of how your breasts normally look and feel in your 20s. 
Some women feel very comfortable taking a step-by-step approach to doing a monthly breast self-exam (BSE). Other women prefer to examine their breasts in a less systematic way, while they are showering or getting dressed, with an occasional, more thorough exam. As long as a woman monitors the look and feel of her breasts regularly, either technique is acceptable.

Women who examine their own breasts should keep in mind that breast changes can occur with pregnancy, aging, menopause, during menstrual cycles or when they are taking birth control pills or other hormones.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends against teaching breast self-examination. It appears that it often leads to unnecessary biopsies and worry for the majority of patients who have a benign condition. However, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists continues to counsel women that breast self-exam has the potential to detect palpable breast cancer and can be performed. They do not state how often, although traditionally it was recommended approximately once a month at the same time in your cycle, like the first day of your period. Breast tissue can change shape through the course of the menstrual cycle, and this allows you to look for changes in the breast at roughly the same time in the cycle so that the breast tissue should be a similar consistency to that of previous months.
Women should start breast self-exams at age 21, and should do it monthly; women can often spot subtle changes in their own breasts that doctors miss. Watch breast cancer surgeon John West, MD, discuss the importance of regular breast self-exams.
A breast self exam should be done the same time every other month. If you are still menstruating, the exam should be done 7 to 10 days from the first day you start menstruating. If you no longer menstruate, pick a date of the month and do your exam on that date every other month. While there is no evidenced based research that supports breast self examination in finding breast cancer early and saving lives, most breast specialist advocate breast self examination. Breast self examination promotes breast awareness and empowers women against the fight of breast disease. Breast self examination allows women to become familiar with how their breasts normally or usually feel. If your breast feels different then it usually does, such as a new lump, this should be brought to the attention of your primary care giver.
Leah Swenson
Oncology
Women should examine their own breasts once a month, according to nurse practitioner Leah Swenson. In this video, she describes the best time to do the exam. 

Continue Learning about Women's Health

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.