Breast development is usually a sign that a girl is entering
puberty. Most girls' breasts start to develop before their
first periods. During puberty, every girl's breasts go through
regular changes. As you grow and develop, you may notice small
lumps and other changes in your breasts, and during your period,
you may find your breasts are sensitive and tender. Most of these
developments are totally normal. Getting into the habit of
examining your breasts when you're still in your teens can help
you get used to your normal breast changes. When you become
familiar with how they feel, it will be easier to recognize
Why Do I Need Breast Exams?
If you go for an annual checkup with a doctor, he or she will
likely examine your breasts to evaluate your development and ensure
that all changes are normal. Your doctor may recommend that you get
into the practice of examining your breasts yourself - called a
breast self-examination (BSE) - and can show you how to do
A BSE can help women detect cysts or other benign (noncancerous)
breast problems between checkups. It can also help some women
detect breast cancer - a disease that's extremely rare among
teens. It's easy to perform a breast self-examination, and it
only takes a few minutes. Although it might seem strange or
inconvenient at first, BSE is a skill you can use throughout your
life to ensure good breast health.
How Do I Examine My Breasts?
It's a good idea to examine your breasts once a month, and
it makes sense to choose the same time each month because breasts
usually change with the menstrual cycle. The best time to do a BSE
is about a week after your period starts.
There are two parts to a BSE:
- how your breasts look
- how they feel
The looking part is easy. Before you put on a bra, stand or sit
in front of a mirror with your arms relaxed at your sides. Look at
your breasts carefully. Do you see anything unusual, like a change
in the way your nipples look? Any dimples or changes in the
Then look at yourself from different angles and arm positions.
Keep your hands at your sides, raise your arms overhead, place your
hands firmly on your hips (to tighten your chest wall
muscles), and bend forward. Watch for dimples or changes in the
skin. Everyone's breasts look different. Get to know what yours
The next part is how your breasts feel. It may seem strange at
first to handle your breasts. Some girls feel self-conscious about
it, but there's no reason to feel guilty or awkward. BSE is a
positive way to stay healthy.
Some girls feel it's easiest to do the feeling part of the
BSE in the shower - not only is it convenient, but the soap and
water can also help your hands move easily over your breasts.
Examine your breasts one at a time. If you're starting with
your right breast, raise your right arm, place your right hand
behind your head, and use your left hand to feel your breast.
One way to examine your breast is to think of your breast as a
circle. Using the pads of your three middle fingers, move your
fingers in a spiral motion from the outside to the inside of the
circle, gradually getting closer to the nipple. Notice what feels
normal and what may feel different from the last time you examined
Use different levels of pressure - light, medium, and firm - to
feel each part of your breast. This will allow you to feel the
various layers of tissue in the breast. Start with light pressure,
increase to medium pressure, and finish with firm pressure to feel
the deepest tissue. When you have covered the entire breast, use
your finger and thumb to gently squeeze your nipple, watching for
any discharge. Then put your left arm behind your head and check
your left breast the same way.
You can also examine your breasts as you lie on your back on
your bed. Use the same method described above, raising one arm and
using the other hand to check your breast in a spiral motion. While
you're doing the exam, it's a good idea not to take your
hand off your breast so you don't miss a spot. You should also
check your armpits for any lumps. Girls who have large breasts
should also feel their breasts from the side, while lying on one
side and then the other.
As you feel your breasts, you may notice lumps or bumps. This is
usually normal - just like so many things about people, breasts are
unique. Some girls' breasts are large, some are small; some are
, others are not. Some healthy breasts feel really bumpy, whereas
others are less so. Most teens have healthy breasts no matter what
they look or feel like. But if you're worried about the way
your breasts look or feel, let your doctor know.
If you feel an unusual lump in your breast, don't panic -
breast cancer is extremely rare in teens
. In fact, among teen girls, the most common type of breast lump is
usually related to normal breast growth and development. Other
common conditions can cause a breast lump, such as
a noncancerous growth known as a fibroadenoma, and small,
fluid-filled cysts that tend to vary in size with a girl's
menstrual cycle and are called
fibrocystic breast changes
Fibrocystic breast changes are common. In fact more than half of
all women have them. They're related to the normal cycling of
hormones associated with menstruation. Fibrocystic breast
changes are typically worse just before and at the start of a
If you feel a lump in your breast, talk to your doctor to see if
the cause is one of these common conditions. If you have
fibrocystic breast changes or other breast problems that may make
it difficult to perform a good BSE, your doctor can help.
Infections can also cause breast lumps, as can an injury to the
If you have any of these problems, you should talk to your
- pain in your breast that seems unrelated to your period
- a new lump, bump, or other change in your breast
- a red, hot, or swollen breast
- fluid or bloody discharge from your nipple
- a lump in your armpit
The goal of a BSE is for you to get used to the way your breasts
feel. The better you know your body, the healthier you can be!
Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: January 2007
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2009 The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth. All rights reserved.