How to do a breast self-examination

Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancers among all South African women. Early detection of the condition makes it more likely that treatment will be effective. About 90% of breast cancer patients survive for many years after diagnosis if it’s detected in the early stages.
That’s why it’s important to do regular self-examination of your breasts so you can identify any lumps or other changes early. You should do this once a month during ovulation (around 14 days before your period is due to start). Try to stick to the same time of day each month.

How to do a breast self-examination

In the mirror

  • Stand in front of a mirror to check for any changes in the normal look and feel of your breasts, such as dimpling, size difference or nipple discharge.
  • Inspect your breasts in four ways: arms at sides; arms overhead; firmly pressing hands on hips and bending forward.



Lying down

  • Lie on your back with a pillow under your right shoulder and your right hand under your head.
  • With the four fingers of your left hand make small circular motions, pressing firmly as you follow an up-and-down pattern over the entire breast area, under the arms and up to the shoulder bone.
  • Repeat using right hand on left breast.



While bathing

  • With your right arm raised, check your right breast with a soapy left hand and fingers flat using the method described under step 2 (‘Lying down’).
  • Repeat on the other side




There is no single symptom to self-diagnose breast cancer, so if you notice lumps or other changes in the breast, don’t panic. But immediately make an appointment with a doctor or at your nearest clinic.

Image: Getty Gallo