Health Library

Your Monthly Self-Exam [Infographic]

Main Article Content

Women are often the best judges of what’s “normal” when it comes to their bodies. Monthly breast self-exams can keep you familiar with the look and feel of your breasts, making it easier to identify and share any changes with your primary care provider. Most women will notice changes throughout the month. In this normal pattern of change, breasts can feel swollen, tender, lumpy and sometimes painful.

For the most accurate exam, you should check your breasts when they are least filled with fluid. This will be on the last day of most women’s period or several days after. Women who are pregnant or menopausal can select any day of the month, but should stay consistent with their choice. Breastfeeding mothers should check after pumping or feeding when their breasts are ‘empty.’ They may find they can only check one breast at a time.

Finding something new does not necessarily mean something’s wrong, but you should always report any concerning changes to a professional.

Your best chance against breast cancer will involve monthly breast self-exams, yearly clinical breast exams and mammograms on the appropriate schedule.

Use this infographic to conduct your own monthly breast self-exam and read below for more detail.

monthly self breast exam infographic

The MammaCare® Method

Rule of Three

During your breast self-exam, use the flat pads of your middle three fingers in a bowing position. Apply three degrees of pressure:

  • Light: Barely moving top layer of skin
  • Medium: Halfway through the thickness of the breast
  • Deep: Pressing down to the base of the breast

Step One

Lie with your hand, palm up, on your forehead. Roll onto the opposite side of the breast you’re examining: left for your right breast and right for your left breast. Pull your knees up slightly, rotating your shoulder.

Using the other hand, pad around in small circular motions with light, medium and deep pressure.

Step Two

Continue your exam from the area under your arm. Make dime-sized circles using all three levels of pressure in each spot. Follow the up and down pattern of a search, continuing until you reach your nipple.

Step Three

Roll onto your back when your search reaches your nipple. Place the hand that was on your forehead flat beside your head.

Check the nipple with the same pressure, but do not squeeze. Continue to examine the remaining breast tissue with the same search pattern as before until your reach the breastbone.

Repeat steps 1-3 for the opposite breast.

Step Four

Stand up. Make a row of circles above and below your collarbone, checking the depressed area near your neck by rolling your shoulders. Place your fingers in the formed depression and check carefully.

Feel under each arm for lymph node enlargement.

Step Five

Finally, give yourself a good look. Some cancers do not form a lump, so a visual exam is important.

Turn from side to side in each position as you look for these changes:

  • Shape of the breast, nipple and areola
  • Rash, redness, dimpling, moles or other skin sores
  • Discharge or rash by the nipple
  • Noticeable increase in size or number of veins

Interested in hearing more from Northwestern Medicine? Sign up for the Healthy Tips E‑Newsletter for everything from health and wellness ideas to patient breakthroughs to academic and medical advancements.

Download Your Monthly Self-Exam [Infographic]