Breast self-evaluation (BSE): A means of early breast cancer detection

Published 20 Dec 2021 • By Claudia Lima

Breast cancer is the most common and deadliest cancer in women. 1 in 8 women is likely to develop it in her lifetime. However, the mortality rate is decreasing year by year, thanks to improved treatments, but also thanks to breast cancer screening that is increasingly adapted to each woman's risk level.  

One of the ways to detect this disease at an early stage is through self-examination.  

But how to go about a breast self-exam? When should it be done?

We explain it all in our article!

Breast self-evaluation (BSE): A means of early breast cancer detection

Breast cancer is caused by a disruption in cells that multiply and form a mass called a tumour. The tumour affects the mammary gland and can spread to other parts of the body, provoking metastases.

It is essential for every woman to look for any changes in her breasts and to get screened regularly.

A clinical breast examination (palpation) by a health professional is recommended every year starting from the age of 20. Then, if there are no symptoms or risk factors for developing breast cancer, NHS recommends breast screening (mammogram) every 3 years for women aged 50 to 71.

For women with a medical and family history or genetic predispositions, there are specific follow-up procedures.

If you notice a change in the breasts, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. It can be a lump or a swelling in the breast or in the armpit, or a change in skin texture. All of these can be the first signs of breast cancer.

In the UK, breast cancer is responsible for the death of more than 11,000 women every year. 8 out of 10 cases are diagnosed in women over 50 years old. If detected early, breast cancer has a good prognosis with a survival rate of approximately 85%.

This is why doctors strongly encourage all women to regularly perform breast self-examination. It can also be a supplement to examinations carried out as part of breast cancer screening programme.

In fact, early detection allows less aggressive and more conservative therapeutic care plan for people with malignant tumours, an early diagnosis has therefore a major impact on breast cancer treatment.

Breast self-examination, what is it?  

Breast self-examination, or self-check, includes special gestures that allow a woman to detect any possible abnormalities in her breasts. It is a painless examination that consists of feeling the breast and the area under the armpit to look for any unusual lumps or redness, and therefore tumours.

This self-exam makes it easy to notice any changes in the breast, and then report it to your doctor.

Breast prostheses do not prevent women from breast self-examination.

What are the gestures and when to do them?

Breast self-exam is divided into two parts. The first one is a visual observation phase, the second one is a palpation phase.

Here is how you should proceed:  

  • Uncover your breasts and stand in front of the mirror: 


  • Visually inspect both breasts, paying attention to the following: nipple discharge, cracked, dimpling, puckering or peeling skin, the shape of the breasts
  • Raise the right arm and put the three fingers of the left hand together as in the image below:


  • Examine your breast using the three fingers. Palpate the entire right breast firmly and carefully. Starting with the outer part, move your fingertips across your breast in small circles, or in lines. You should pay particular attention to the armpit and the area between the armpit and the breast,
  • Examine your nipple. Gently pinch it to check for any signs of fluid coming out of it, or any other abnormality,


  • Repeat all the actions for the left breast 

Sante.bd, self-examination, how to do a breast self-exam 

Some specialists recommend self-examination at least once a month, on the same day, a few days after your period, when the tissues are softer, starting when you are in your twenties. It is recommended to carry out this examination always at the same period of time so that the comparison is relevant.

If you are going through menopause, check your breasts on the same day each month.

What should you do if you find something unusual? 

You may find some abnormalities during a breast self-examination. These can be: suspicious lumps, skin puckering, the appearance of a small crack or sores, blood or fluid coming out from the nipple, etc.

If you notice any of these signs, you should see a GP or a gynecologist as soon as possible. They will perform a breast palpation and, if necessary, prescribe additional examinations (blood tests, ultrasound, MRI, mammogram, etc.).

Contrary to the popular belief about cancer and breast self-examination, the appearance of lumps or other changes in the breast does not necessarily indicate the presence of a tumour or breast cancer. It can actually be a benign condition. However, it is still recommended to have any abnormalities checked by a healthcare professional.

Self-examination of the breasts is not a substitute for regular visits to a GP or o gynecologist.

According to Cancer Research Institute, early detection leads to a 98% survival rate (five years and more).

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1 comment

on 20/12/2021

In 2018 I was diagnosed with breast cancer  I was told that I had this when having a ct xray, because of having a chest infection, I was told that they had found abnormalities in both of my breasts,  so I was to go to a breast cancer unit and have a mammogram on both breasts,  so an appointment was made for me 2 wks later after my mammogram I was asked to go sit in the waiting area till I was called in for biopsy, so this they did but I had to go back after until they checked they were going to send me my results told me it would be a couple of weeks,then they phoned me and I was told that they had my results but I had to see a breast surgeon,I was absolutely petrified I lived in Skegness and we had to drive to Boston hospital in Lincolnshire when I arrived at my destination I couldn't stop shaking ,because I was scared of my results then I was told that I could have my right breast drained but unfortunately I had to either have the lump removed and keep my breast ,but that would be OK but there was a chance of it returning, or I could have a mastectomy and have my left breast removed  ,so I suggested to have a mastectomy as I stood more chance of it not coming back, but before that I would have to have a ultrasound to see if I was OK for my op ,so a few weeks later, I had the ultrasound, and was told I had a low blood flow to my heart ,after that I was given the ok for my op  when it came to go back for my operation I felt so nervous I didn't tell my children until I had my op ,and that was the hardest thing I ever  had to do ,they were so scared what I was going through ,they were devastated ,after the op I was able to go home had a drain in me to collect the waste blood ,this had to be emptied every day ,and 2 weeks later I had to go back to get it removed it was horrible, I was so scared of catching the pipe when going to toilet and going to bed I felt aurful, I was tired felt very down and upset and was so scared of closing my eyes incase I never woke up, it is the worse thing in my life ,when I went back they told me they got all the cancer out but I would have to have 6 weeks of radiotherapy 2 boosters to start and 2 when finished that also was scarry after first one I was very red and very sore ,we had to travel a lot of miles there and back ,it was very frightening I had to lay on a bed then they put this artificial skin on me and tape it down  then measure where they was going to give me the radiation, I couldn't stop crying I was so tired and scared I was 64 yrs old and petrified of dying ,but I knew I had to fight my cancer ,and not let it win ,my cancer tumour was under my breast bone very close to my heart  so they to be really careful where the treatment was to go ,we had to travel there and back every day except weekends, it was hard ,after the end of my treatment, I rang a bell and that was fantastic but coming out of the hospital it was very scary my scar hurt it was very red sore they gave me some cream and oil to put on all the time was after  having the radiotherapy, and still had to put the cream on now it has left me with lymphodema and my copd ,has got worse now I have emphysema,I take anastrazole instead of letrazole,as that made my osteoporosis worse ,but I still scared of it coming back I have been ok for 3yrs but still I am seeing my oncologist and my breast surgeon see them both regular but I'm still so scared and worried that they will say it has come back have many other illnesses but this scares me the most I used to suffer with post traumatic trauma low moods depression but now I also have anxiety to because of it all also I have my  hot flushes back and every time I stand up to quick I go dizzy this cancer has brought so much with it so please always check your breasts readily it's better to be safe than sorry wed I have to have another mammogram and I am so scared of it coming back this is my breast cancer story Tigger .

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