The Importance of Teaching Breast Self-Examination (BSE)

About 1 in 8 American women (approximately 12 percent) will develop invasive breast cancer. (The rates for men are 1 in 1,000, or less than 1 percent.) Breast cancer is usually discovered in one of two ways, either by clinical breast examination (CBE) or breast self-examination (BSE). It is important to teach both of these methods in the classroom.

Since a BSE is performed with the fingers, it’s important to have the right skill and technique. Over the past 25 years, the size of lumps detected has overall become smaller. (Source) Women, whether they discover a lump through BSE or in the normal course of dressing or bathing, know that if they feel something unusual, it is important to report their finding to a healthcare professional.

What to Look for During a BSE

Women should be instructed to do a BSE monthly. The following changes should be brought to the attention of a healthcare provider:

  • Any new lump in the breast or under the arm
  • Thickening or swelling in any part of the breast
  • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
  • Pulling in the nipple or pain in the nipple area
  • Nipple discharge (that is not breast milk), especially if it occurs without squeezing
  • Redness or flaky skin on the breast or nipple
  • Any change in the size or shape of the breast


A clinical breast examination is done by a healthcare provider. He or she will look for the same types of things as can be observed by a BSE. However, since a provider performing a CBE is trained more thoroughly in the technique, she is better qualified to understand the consequences of finding a lump and decide on a course of clinical evaluation.

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) recommends CBE for women at normal risk every one to three years, starting at age 25, and annually starting at age 40. The NCCN recommends a mammogram every year starting at age 40. (The recommendation from the American Cancer Society is a mammogram annually starting at age 45. After age 55, if a woman remains in good health, the ACS recommends a mammogram every two years.) (Source)

For classroom instruction, Pocket Nurse offers both BSE and CBE models and simulators. To learn more about the benefits of simulators in the classroom, see our guest post from 3B Scientific.

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