How to Spot Breast Cancer Early: The Self-Exam

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States, aside from skin cancer. In 2020, it's estimated that there will be about 276,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer and 42,170 breast cancer deaths. While these numbers are staggering, there is some good news: thanks to early detection and advances in treatment, the mortality rate from breast cancer has steadily declined over the past few decades.

So, how can you protect yourself? The best way to detect breast cancer early is to perform regular self-exams and to schedule an annual mammogram after the age of 35. In this blog post, we'll provide step-by-step instructions on how to perform a self-exam as well as offer some tips on what to look for.

Breast Cancer Self-Exam Diagram
TomikaTalks | Life in Pumps

How to Perform a Self-Exam

Step 1: Prepping for Your Self-Exam

Before you get started, it's important to find a comfortable place where you can relax. You might want to prop up your pillows in bed or sit at a vanity with a mirror. It's also helpful to have a few supplies on hand, including lotion or gel (to help your hands glide smoothly over your skin), a small towel (to wipe off any excess gel), and a pen and paper (to keep track of any changes you notice). If you have long nails, you might also want to trim them beforehand so that they don't snag on your skin.

Step 2: Checking Your breasts

Once you're settled, start by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms at your sides. Look for any changes in size, shape, or symmetry as well as any new bumps or lumps. Next, raise your arms above your head and look for the same changes. Now it's time to feel around.

Using the pads of your fingers, move around your entire breast in a circular pattern, moving from the outer edges inward towards the nipple. Be sure to feel all of the tissue from your collarbone down to where your ribs meet as well as under your armpit. Don't forget to feel along both sides of your neck and under each arm for any unusual lumps or swellings. Lastly, press down firmly on each nipple; if discharge other than milk begins flowing out or if there's redness or Dimpling around the nipple area, make note of it and bring it up with your doctor at your next appointment.

Related: Breast Cancer Facts You Should Know

Step 3: Inspecting Your Breasts while Lying Down

Now that you've looked at and felt both breasts while standing up, it's time to lie down. When lying down, gravity will help pull any dense tissue towards the chest wall making it easier for you to feel anything unusual. Position yourself on your bed so that you're lying flat on your back with a pillow propped underneath one shoulder and your arm raised above your head. Using the same technique as before—moving from the outer edges inward using small circles—inspect each breast thoroughly. Again, be sure to check all areas from under your arm down onto your ribcage as well as around the neck area for any unusual lumps or swellings


While no one likes thinking about breast cancer, it's important to be proactive when it comes to protecting yourself from this deadly disease. The best way to do this is by performing regular self-exams and scheduling an annual mammogram after the age of 35. We hope that this blog post has provided you with some useful tips on how to perform a self-exam; remember—early detection is key!

Welcome to my home on the web... I’m Tomika, the thought leader behind Life in Pumps. I love all things fashion, fun & travel! I’m a wife and mother of two very active teenagers. I'm a social butterfly and passionate about advocating for breast cancer disparities and the benefits of organics. Follow along as I believe life is more fun when you actually live it!

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