Breast Health: Mammograms, Clinical Exams, and Self-Exams

Timing Your Exams for Most Effectiveness

Woman having a mammogram
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You have three important ways to maintain breast health and monitor changes. Knowing how and when you need to use them makes these tools most effective.


The American Cancer Society recommends that women who are 40 years or older receive an annual mammogram. Even if you are in good health and do not have any symptoms of breast cancer, a consistent record of mammograms can assess any changes in your breast tissue. Your first mammogram is your baseline, against which newer images are compared. Keep a record of the dates of each mammogram, along with results, if you have them.


  • Mammograms find all types of lumps, 80 percent of which are benign
  • High-quality images can help detect 85 to 90 percent of all breast cancers
  • Mammograms reveal breast cancers at early stages before you can feel a lump
  • Early detection leads to effective treatment and increases your five-year survival rate to 95 percent or higher
  • Treatment for early-stage breast cancer is less aggressive

Clinical Breast Exam (CBE)

If you are in your 20s and 30s, you should receive a clinical breast exam (CBE) along with your annual physical. Your family doctor, nurse practitioner, or gynecologist can do your CBE. It’s a good time to ask any questions about your breast health and note any changes due to age, pregnancy, surgery, or other health conditions.

Breast Self-Exam (BSE)

You can start doing your breast self-exam when you’re in your 20s, or you can ask your health professional when is the best age to start. Your family medical history and risk for breast cancer will be a factor in that decision. Always report any change in look or feel of your breast to your doctor.

Changes to take note of are:

  • swelling or bump(s)
  • rash or skin redness (inflammation)
  • dimpled skin (similar to an orange peel)
  • unusual pain in your breast or nipple
  • nipple pulling inward
  • nipple discharge (not breast milk)

If you’re not sure how to do your BSE properly, ask your health professional for help. Set aside a regular monthly time for your self-exam, so you can compare breast tissue at the same time of your menstrual cycle. Breasts do swell and are tenderer at different phases of your cycle, so plan ahead for your own comfort and consistency.

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