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Breast Exam

Planned Parenthood Women's Health: Breast Cancer Screenings: Breast Exam

Breast Exams at a Glance

  • Regular clinical breast exams by a health care provider are important for finding breast cancer early

Here are answers to some common questions women ask about breast exams.

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What Are Breast Exams?

Breast exams are ways to check a woman's breasts for changes and lumps. They are performed by a health care provider — often as a routine part of a gynecological exam.

Women over 40 should also get mammograms to check for breast changes and lumps.

Why Are Breast Exams Important?

Breast exams, along with mammograms, can improve the chance of detecting breast cancer early. And the earlier breast cancer is detected and treated, the better for your health.

Clinical breast exams are very important. Health care providers are experienced in being able to tell if a woman's breasts are healthy or if they have lumps or other problems that need further testing.

When Should Breast Exams Be Done?

Clinical breast exams are recommended every one to three years for most women in their 20s and 30s. You can talk with your doctor, nurse, or other health care provider about your specific risks for breast cancer to know how frequently to get exams. After women turn 40, exams are recommended every year.

Staff at your local Planned Parenthood health center, many other clinics, health departments, and private health care providers can give you a clinical breast exam.

What Happens During a Breast Exam?

During a breast exam, a health care provider will examine your breasts for any possible signs of breast cancer or other breast problems. Your provider will also talk with you about your risks for breast cancer and what you can do to help prevent it.

For a breast exam, you will undress from the waist up. Your health care provider will look at both breasts, paying close attention to their shape, size, and skin texture. Then, your health care provider will feel your breasts with the pads of her or his fingers for any abnormal texture or lumps. Your health care provider will feel all parts of one breast and then the other, including the nipple, as well as the area beneath each arm.

Should I Do Monthly Breast Self-Exams?

Health care providers used to recommend that women do breast self-exams every month. But research about breast self-exams has found that they may not be that helpful. The key is to be aware of how your breasts normally look and feel. Simply looking at, touching, and feeling your breasts from time to time is enough to help you notice any changes. If you notice any changes in your breast, you should have it checked out by a health care provider as soon as possible.

What Should I Do If I Find a Lump?

If you find a lump or another change in your breast, talk to a health care provider as soon as possible. Know that if you find a change in your breasts, it does not necessarily mean you have cancer. There are many other, less serious problems that can cause breast changes such as cysts, infections, or injuries. However, it's important to report any changes you find to your local health care provider.

A health care provider can perform a clinical breast exam and physical exam to help determine if the lumps may be a sign of breast cancer. Your health care provider may order further testing, such as a mammogram or biopsy.

Staff at your local Planned Parenthood health center, many other clinics, health departments, and private health care providers can help you get any tests or treatment you may need.

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Breast Exam