Monthly breast self exams can play a key role in maintaining breast health—if you develop breast cancer, you may detect it earlier with a self exam than you would relying on your annual checks by your gynecologist or other health care provider.

Even if you’re already a pro at performing the monthly exam, accommodating your new implants means using a slightly different method for performing the exam, to ensure you check your entire breast and that you don’t disturb the implant. Here’s how to do it.

  • Ask your surgeon to show you how to distinguish between your implant and your breast. That will enable you to determine if any changes you feel in your breast are simply part of the new implant or if they’re something that you need to bring to your doctor’s attention.
  • Lie down for your exam. In that position, your breast tissue is spread out over the chest wall and thinner, making it easier for you to feel any lumps or bumps.
  • Examine your breast thoroughly. Using the pads of your three middle fingers, move up and down each breast, making small circles to feel the tissue beneath each spot. You’ll want to press firmly beneath the edges of each implant, so you can check for changes to the tissue near the rib cage.
  • Don’t push too hard. You’ll need to use varying degrees of pressure on each part of your breast to accurately feel the different layers of breast tissue, but without using excessive pushing and squeezing that could lead to leaks and deflation of your implant. Your surgeon or health care provider should be able to provide a quick self-exam tutorial so that you can be confident in the level of pressure you can use without damaging your implants.
  • Do a mirror check. Stand in front of a mirror with your shirt off and your hands on your hips, and examine each breast for differences. You’re looking for differences in size, shape or contour, changes in the texture of the skin on your nipples or breasts, or new dimples that weren’t there before. Check them again with your hands placed behind your head.
  • Check your nipples. Look for changes in size, for nipples that suddenly turn inward instead of outward, or for discharge when they’re squeezed.
  • Feel your armpits, too. While you’re sitting or standing, lift your arm slightly and feel beneath your armpit for any unusual lumps or bumps there.
  • Know when to call. Contact your doctor if you observe any dimpling or puckering or discoloration of the skin, changes to the nipple, redness, swelling, pain, or a painless, hard mass. Your doctor can examine the suspicious spot, and order additional testing—a mammogram, MRI or biopsy—if it’s unclear whether the spot you’ve found is harmless.

In many cases, breast lumps and bumps turn out to be benign. But if your breast self exam helped you uncover breast cancer in the early stages, you may just have saved your life.