Peer Health

Self-Exams for Women

While a clinician at a gynecological exam will look for infections and abnormalities, she or he will recommend that a regimen of self-exams be practiced so that the woman herself can learn to recognize any physical changes which may suggest problems. The ability to examine one’s own breasts and vulva is an important part of personal health care for women.

Breast Self-Examination (BSE)

A BSE should be performed every month during the week after the menstrual period ends. It is important to determine what feels normal initially and then to check for any changes. The examination has both a visual and manual component. During the visual examination, stand in front of a mirror and look for:

  • Difference in shape – flattening or bulging in one breast
  • Puckering in the skin or nipple
  • Changes in the nipple, such as a discharge of fluid, scaly crusts, reddening of the nipple, and/or nipples pointing in different directions
  • The breasts should then be examined by touch. You should also examine your breasts by feeling them. Using your opposite hand and the flats of your fingers, examine your breasts as illustrated on the next page. If you notice anything unusual, contact the Health Center at 597-2206.

Peer Health has breast models available on which BSEs can be demonstrated and practiced. Also, the American Cancer Society has developed a good brochure on BSE which is available at Health Services and in the Peer Health room.

Vulva Self-examination

A vulva self-examination is a simple exam that can help the woman discover the presence of a sexually transmitted disease. Often early diagnosis can be very important in treating a disease most effectively. For more information on specific diseases, see the pages on Sexually Transmitted Diseases and Urinary Tract and Genital Infections.

The vulva is the entire external portion of the vagina. To perform an exam, first undress, and examine the area of your genitals covered with pubic hair. It may be difficult to see the entire vulva area, and it might help to use a mirror. Spread the hair and check for any of the following:

  •  Bumps and blisters which may be reddish or flesh-colored. Some may look more like pimples.
  •  Open sores.
  • Warts which may be similar in appearance to warts on other parts of your body, and may be difficult to detect.

Next, spread the outer lips of your vagina and check the hood of your clitoris. Then, look at the clitoris itself by gently pulling up the hood. Again, check for sores, bumps, blisters, or warts. Then look at the inner lips on all sides, and then check the area surrounding the urinary and vaginal openings. Also, try to be aware of any unusual discharge from your vagina. If you see or feel anything suspicious, call the Health Center at 597-2206. Some STDs will not appear in your vulva area, so if you have reason to think you have been exposed, it is important to have a pelvic exam or other tests by a doctor.