Clinical breast examinations can detect a lump in your breast and other changes that might require more testing. Breast exams are one of the most important early breast cancer screenings.

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Why are breast exams important?

Breast exams improve the chances of finding breast cancer early. And the earlier breast cancer is found, the easier it is to treat.

Your doctor or nurse can tell whether your breasts look and feel healthy. During a breast exam, your doctor will feel for lumps and other problems, and can recommend more tests if there’s anything unusual.

When should I get a breast exam?

Most cisgender women should get a breast exam every 1 to 3 years in their 20s and 30s, then once a year after turning 40. They’re usually done as part of well-woman visits.

Talk to your doctor if you’ve had breast or ovarian cancer before, or if someone related to you has had breast or ovarian cancer — you may need to have more frequent breast cancer screenings.

How’s a breast exam done?

During a breast exam, your doctor will check your breasts for any possible signs of breast cancer or other breast problems. They’ll also talk with you about your risks for breast cancer and what you can do to help prevent it.

You’ll take your shirt and bra off. Your doctor or nurse will look at both of your breasts to see the shape, size, and texture of your skin. They’ll feel your breasts with the tips of their fingers to check if there are any lumps or if something else doesn’t feel normal. They’ll start with one breast and then do the other, including both nipples, and also check your armpits.

Should I do breast self-exams?

Experts used to recommend that you do self breast-exams every month. A self-exam was a specific way of feeling your breasts. But research about breast self-exams has found that they may not be that helpful, so they are no longer recommended.

Just looking at your breasts and feeling them from time to time should be good enough. The key is knowing what’s normal for your breasts so you’ll notice any changes in how they look or feel.

What if I find a lump in my breast?

If you find a lump or another change in your breast, talk to your doctor or nurse as soon as you can. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer — there are lots of other things, like cysts or infections, that can cause lumps or other changes. But it’s really important to get checked out just in case. Your doctor can do a breast exam or a mammogram to see if there’s something wrong.