How to examine your breasts with DR Philippa Kaye

We know we are supposed to check our breasts, but how/when/where and why do you actually do it?

Everyone, both male and female, should check their breast or chest area. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, with one in eight women being diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. Although it is more common in women, men too can be affected so need to check themselves!

I am often asked what is the exact way to examine your breasts, there isn’t a right way or a wrong way, there is just you looking at and feeling the entirety of your breasts (which includes up to the collarbone and your armpits) and knowing what your breasts feel like so you can notice if anything changes.

Although it is recommended that you examine your breasts once a month I would advise that you get to know what your breasts feel like at various points in your menstrual cycle as you might notice that your breasts change throughout your cycle. For example, your breasts might be more tender and lumpier before or during your period and then change afterwards, or you might notice that your breasts become bigger during pregnancy, or softer after the menopause. Some people use their cycle as a reminder to check their breasts, for example after the period ends, or use ‘Feel on the First’ to help you remember to check your chest area on the first of each month!

How to examine your breasts

Firstly, look at your breasts in the mirror, you could look with your hands by your sides and then up above or behind your head (like you are sunbathing!) to look at your breasts. You are looking for any changes, or any new asymmetry:

  • Has one breast changed shape, size or outline?
  • Has a nipple changed e.g. pointing in a different direction, or turning inwards (it isn’t an issue if you always had inverted nipples, but if you didn’t and one starts to invert then see your doctor)
  • Are there any skin changes such as a rash or red or wet looking area on the nipple/areola, or over the breast? Or does the skin look dimpled like the surface of an orange?
  • Is there any nipple discharge when you aren’t breastfeeding – this might be clear, milky or bloody.
  • Is there any new puckering or dimpling on the breast?

Once you have had a look then it is time to feel and examine the breasts/chest. You can do this standing, sitting, lying down, in the bath, in the shower with a wet soapy hand, whatever works for you! Lift one arm above your head and use the other hand to examine the opposite breast. You need to ensure that you check the entire breast area, so you may wish to divide each breast into four quarters or quadrants and check each; or imagine that each breast is a clock and examine the wedge under each number. Don’t forget to check the nipple and feel all the way up to the collarbone and into each armpit.

  • Look for anything new and different for you such as a lump or thickening of the breast or bumpy area.
  • Any discomfort, pain or tenderness in the area, especially if it only affects one side.

If you notice any changes then please see your doctor. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have cancer, there are lots of other causes of lumps and bumps in the breast and other changes, but you do need to be checked over. Your GP may refer you on a suspected cancer two week wait to see a breast specialist in the hospital.

If you read this, now go and check your breasts!