Cancer in Illinois - Resources Cancer Research Funding

   < Home  < Risk Factors


All women 20 years of age and older should perform BSE each month, two to three days after your period or on the same date each month if you no longer have periods. Monthly BSE helps you learn the way your breasts normally look and feel and allows you to notice changes. The following changes are usually not cancer but should be reported to your health care provider:

  • A lump or thickening in or near your breast or under your arm
  • A change in the size or shape of your breasts
  • A discharge from your nipple that occurs without squeezing
  • A change in the color or feel of the skin on your breasts, areola or nipple (dimpled, puckered or scaly)

Instructions for BSE

Monthly Breast Self-Exam

Look For Changes

Hands at side. Compare for symmetry. Look for changes in:
• shape
• color

Check for:
• puckering
• skin changes
• nipple discharge
• dimpling

Hands over head.
Check front and side view for:
• symmetry
• puckering
• dimpling

Hands on hips, press down, bend forward.
Check for:
• symmetry
• nipple direction
• general appearance

Feel For Changes

Lie down with a towel under right shoulder; raise right arm above the head.

Examine area from:
• underarm to lower bra line
• across to breast bone
• up to collar bone
• back to armpit

Use the pads of the three middle fingers of the left hand. Hold hand in bowed position. Move fingers in dime-sized circles.

Use three levels of pressure:
• light
• medium
• firm

Examine entire area using vertical strip pattern.

Be sure to examine both breasts
in the same way.
If there are any lumps,
knots or changes,
tell your doctor right away.

Clinical Breast Exam (CBE)

A CBE should be a part of every yearly health exam for women 20 years of age and older. During the CBE, your doctor or nurse will carefully feel your breasts and under your arms checking for lumps and other changes. During the CBE, your health care provider can show you the correct way to perform a breast self-exam, if you ask for help.

To find out if you’re eligible for free mammograms, click here.

A mammogram is a low dose X-ray that shows the inside of your breasts. Women 40 years of age and older should have a test every year. Do not wear deodorant, perfume, lotion or powder on the morning of your mammogram. You will be asked to remove your clothes from the waist up and put on a gown, so wear a blouse or sweater that you can take off easily.

During a mammogram, two smooth, flat plastic plates are placed around one of your breasts to flatten your breast tissue. Flattening your breast provides the best exam using the lowest dose X-ray. Two or more X-rays will be taken of each breast. The pressure of the plates may cause your breasts to ache and possibly some minor bruising. Any aching or bruising should disappear shortly. If you have periods, have your mammogram during the week after your period when your breasts are less tender.

The doctor who reads your mammogram will want to compare this test to previous mammograms and you may be asked to bring your X-rays with you. Additional views of your breasts may be needed to look more closely at a certain area of your breast. This additional test is called a diagnostic mammogram.

If your health care provider orders additional tests, such as a breast ultrasound or breast biopsy, ask for information about these tests. Remember, if you have a lump in your breast, a normal mammogram is not enough testing to make sure the lump is not cancer.

When you receive your results or a call to have more testing done, be sure to ask questions if you do not understand your health care provider’s plan for your care.