Understanding Breast Examination and Mammography

The majority of breast lumps are not cancerous. But, for the small percentage that are, early detection greatly increases the chances of successful treatment and cure and could mean saving your life.

The best means of detecting breast cancer before it becomes life threatening is practicing monthly breast self-examination (BSE), having regular professional breast exams, and following the American Cancer Society’s guidelines for routine mammography.

Breast Self Examination (BSE)

BSE is a technique for discovering changes in the way your breasts normally look and feel. In order to determine what is “normal” for you, you need to thoroughly examine your breasts every month at the same time of the month since monthly hormonal changes can affect the way your breasts feel from one week to the next.

For menstruating women, it is suggested that you examine your breasts one week after the onset of your period. For menopausal, or post-menopausal women, it may be convenient to perform BSE on the first day of each month.

Professional Exams

Your health care professional is skilled at detecting abnormalities in breast tissue. He or she can help answer questions about BSE, provide guidelines for mammographic screenings, and help determine whether or not you have any risk factors that might affect your breast health program. (For example, if you have a family history of breast cancer, you might be advised to have more frequent professional exams and/or mammographic screenings than is usually recommended.)


Mammography is a breast screening exam that uses low doses of x-rays to image the inside of the breast. There is less radiation exposure in the average mammogram than there is in most dental x-rays.

Mammograms can often detect breast lumps before they can be felt. The American Cancer Society recommends a baseline mammogram between age 35 and 40. After that, one mammogram every two years is generally recommended up until age 50. After age 50, women should have an x-ray examination of the breast annually.

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