Why It's So Important To Do Breast Self-Exams And How To Do Them

When it comes to their health, it's important for women to be empowered to take control. One way they can do that is to get to know their own bodies through practices such as tracking their menstrual cycles and heart rates to performing breast self-exams. Although breast cancer isn't preventable, it is a type of cancer that can be detected early on. And according to the American Cancer Society, the earlier breast cancer is found, the easier it is to treat successfully and the greater the chance for survival.


The statistics surrounding breast cancer are startling. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, "Approximately one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime." In fact, breast cancer was the most common cancer in the world in 2020, and accounted for 12.5% of new cases diagnosed (via World Cancer Research Fund International). The power of early detection is unmatched.

Why breast self-exams are important

A breast self-exam is a no-cost tool that can be used at any time, no matter your age. If done correctly, it can be the first indication that something isn't right. According to an August 2011 study published in The Journal of Women's Health, "Most women survivors (57%) reported a detection method other than mammographic examination. Women often detected breast cancers themselves, either by self-examination (25%) or by accident (18%)." These numbers prove the life-saving potential of these routine self-exams.


Although it shouldn't be the only form of early detection, women should consider breast self-exams as a relatively easy way to add a line of defense against breast cancer. If you notice changes in your breasts, it's important to make an appointment with your doctor. However, experts do warn against panicking if you find an irregularity because eight out of 10 lumps found in breasts are not cancerous (via National Breast Cancer Foundation).

How to perform a breast self-exam

To perform a self-exam, experts at the National Breast Cancer Foundation recommend using your hands first. While in the shower, lift the arm on the same side as the breast you'd like to inspect. Then, take the pads of your three middle fingers of the opposite hand and press down with firm pressure. Feel for any changes in your breast, lumps, or hard areas. Repeat on the other breast. Next, give yourself an exam while lying down, so that your breast tissue spreads out evenly. Choose a side and place a pillow underneath you with your arm above your head. Use the opposite hand to feel around with pressure to detect any abnormalities in your breast. Repeat on the other side.


Follow up with a visual examination (via Mayo Clinic). Stand in front of your mirror. With your palms on your hips, press firmly to flex your chest muscles. Notice if there are any changes including dimpling or puckering on your breasts. 

Regularly examining your breasts is an important way to manage your health. Women who discover breast cancer through early detection methods such as routine breast self-exams set themselves up for optimal success in managing the disease.