When should I do a breast self-exam?

Sonia M. Ceballos, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrics & Gynecology)
Breast self-awareness is more encouraged than a breast self-exam to know what normal for you looks like. Watch Sonia Ceballos, MD, of MountainView Hospital, explain self-awareness.
You should do a breast self-exam because it's important to be aware of what feels and looks normal on your body -- that way, if any breast changes become apparent, you can take quick action and seek help. Quick action and response to changes can lead to early cancer detection and may save your life.

When it comes to your breasts, “knowing your normal” simply means being aware of your own body -- and what normal means for you. Cancer can reveal itself in different ways to different people, and the warning signs of breast cancer are not the same for all women. You need to know what is normal for your breasts and nipples and note any changes.

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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.
There is a difference of opinion within the medical community over whether breast self-exams should even be performed anymore. Traditionally it was taught that women should perform the exam around the same time of the month--for example, at the beginning or end of your period--and to be consistent, as the breast tissue can change through the menstrual cycle. However, more recently, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended against teaching breast self-examination. However, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists continues to state that women should be counseled on the potential for breast self-exams to detect palpable breast cancer, and that breast self-exams can be performed.
Leah Swenson
Your breasts change throughout your monthly cycle, and there is a specific window of time that is best for a breast self-exam.
Examine your breasts once a month at the end of your period when your breasts usually are not tender or swollen. If you have already been through menopause or have had a hysterectomy, check your breasts on the first day of every month or whenever you can best remember to do it monthly.

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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.