Preparing To Get A Breast Exam

Many women are unsure which breast exam is right for them. Ask your doctor what is right for you. Komen recommends:

  • Starting at age 20, have a clinical breast exam at least every three years.
  • Starting at age 40, have a mammogram and a clinical breast exam every year.

Why get screened? When breast cancer is detected early and localized to the breast, the 5-year survival rate is 99%.

What is a clinical breast exam?

Clinical breast exams (CBE) are done by your doctor or nurse in an office or clinic. They are often included as part of an annual health exam.

What will typically happen during a clinical breast exam?

  • The doctor does a clinical breast exam using the pads on their three middle fingers. He/she will move his/her hand up and down your breast in rows (like mowing the lawn) and will cover the entire breast including the nipple and all breast tissue from the collarbone to the bra line.
  • The doctor will also look at your breast to see if there are any changes in the shape, skin or nipple. You may be asked to put your arms at your side, on your head or on your hips.
  • During or after the exam, the doctor will talk with you about what they see and feel.
  • At the end of the exam, ask your doctor to help you identify what is normal and not normal for your breasts.

What is a mammogram?

Mammography is a technique that uses x-rays to provide an image of the breast. These images are stored on film or on a computer (digital mammography) and can find tumors in the breast that can’t be felt.

What will typically happen during a mammogram?

  • You will be asked to undress from the waist up and given a gown to wear.
  • You will stand in front of an x-ray machine specially designed for mammograms.
  • The technician will place your breast on a plate that holds the x-ray film.
  • A second plate will slowly come down on top of your breast to spread out your breast tissue. This allows the technician to get a clear picture of your breast with the lowest dose of radiation.
  • You will feel some pressure on your breast, but only for a few seconds while the mammogram is being taken. This pressure does not harm your breast tissue.
  • Four x-ray pictures will be taken, two of each breast.
  • The technologist will review the pictures to make sure they are of good quality. If needed, she will take extra pictures.
  • Get dressed and be on your way.