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My aunt says I should learn to do a breast self-exam. What is this and why do I need it?
- Graciela*

Your aunt is partly right: breast self-exams ("BSE" for short) can be helpful for women. But doctors don't usually suggest them for teen girls.

There are a couple of reasons why:

  • Breast problems like cancer are extremely rare in teen girls. If your doctor is worried about your breast health, he or she will do a breast exam and keep an eye on you through regular office visits.
  • Your breasts are still growing and changing. The reason women do breast self-exams is to learn what's normal for their breasts. But during the teen years, what's "normal" can change based on where a girl is in her development. To make things more confusing, your breasts can feel different depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle. If you've been getting your period for a while, you might notice that they feel tender or swollen just before or during your period.

It's good to get used to the way your breasts normally look and feel. A good way to do that is to try this: When you're lying down, lightly touch your breasts with your fingertips. You might be surprised at how they feel. Breasts are a complex system of ducts and tissue so you'll notice normal lumps and bumps.

At some point your twenties, your doctor will probably show you how to do a BSE. Until then, you only need to worry about your breasts if you notice these problems:

  • pain in your breast that isn't related 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 or near your collarbone

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: October 2013

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Related Resources:
American Cancer Society
The American Cancer Society is the nationwide community-based voluntary health organization dedicated to preventing cancer, saving lives and diminishing suffering from cancer through research, education, advocacy, and service. Call:(800) ACS-2345, developed by the U.S. Office on Women's Health, offers girls between the ages of 10 and 16 information about growing up, food and fitness, and relationships.
National Women's Health Network
This organization offers packets and booklets on breast care and disease and other issues affecting women. Contact them at: National Women's Health Network 514 10th St. NW Suite 400 Washington, DC 20004 (202) 628-7814
Planned Parenthood Info for Teens
This site from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America has information on relationships and sexual health for teens.