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Breast Self-Awareness

Test Overview

Experts recommend that you be aware of how your breasts normally look and feel.footnote 1 This is called breast self-awareness. It can help you notice any changes. Many breast problems are first discovered at home. Breast lumps can be noncancerous or cancerous. Talk to your doctor if you notice any changes.

Lumps or changes also may be signs of other breast conditions, such as mastitis or a fibroadenoma.

How often you check your breasts and how you check them is up to you. Unlike with regular breast self-exams, you don't have to follow a specific schedule or step-by-step check of your breasts.

Medical experts don't recommend regular breast self-exams for those with average risk for breast cancer.footnote 1 Studies show that regular breast self-exams don't reduce deaths from breast cancer. And self-exams may lead to unnecessary tests (like a biopsy).footnote 2 But some experts may recommend breast self-exams for those with higher risk for breast cancer.footnote 3

How It Is Done

To help you be aware of changes in your breasts, you can feel them for any lumps or pain. You can also look for other changes, such as redness or a change in the skin's usual color or nipple discharge. How you do this and how often is up to you.

If you choose to check your breasts, the best time to do it is usually 1 week after your menstrual period starts. Your breasts are less likely to be swollen or tender at this time. If you don't have periods, you can check your breasts at any time that's best for you. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns or notice any changes.

You still need regular screening tests such as mammograms or breast exams by your doctor even if you check your own breasts. Your doctor can help you decide when to do screenings.

Next steps

If you notice any changes to the normal look and feel of your breasts, have them checked by a doctor. Changes may include:

  • Any new lump. It may or may not be painful to touch.
  • Unusual thick areas.
  • Discharge from your nipples if you aren't breastfeeding.
  • Any changes in the skin of your breasts or nipples, such as puckering or dimpling.
  • Redness or a change in the skin's usual color.
  • An unusual increase in the size of one breast.
  • One breast unusually lower than the other.

Remember that most breast problems or changes are caused by something other than cancer.

Related Information



  1. Oeffinger KC, et al. (2015). Breast cancer screening for women at average risk 2015 guideline update from the American Cancer Society. JAMA, 314(15): 1599–1614. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2015.12783. Accessed January 21, 2016.
  2. Thomas DB, et al. (2002). Randomized trial of breast self-examination in Shanghai: Final results. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 94(19): 1445–1457. DOI: 10.1093/jnci/94.19.1445. Accessed March 7, 2023.
  3. Daly MB, et al. (2021). Genetic/familial high-risk assessment: Breast, ovarian, and pancreatic, version 2.2021, NCCN clinical practice guidelines in oncology. Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, 19(1): 77–102. DOI: 10.6004/jnccn.2021.0001. Accessed March 6, 2023.


Current as of: August 2, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board:
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Wendy Y. Chen MD, MPH - Medical Oncology, Hematology
Kara L. Cadwallader MD - Family Medicine
JoLynn Montgomery PA - Family Medicine