The Characteristics of Breast Exams

A breast self-examination (BSE) allows you to know your breasts and detect changes in them if they occur. Learn more about the different breast exams in this article!
The Characteristics of Breast Exams

Last update: 08 February, 2020

Breast exams include several essential tests that help you control your breast health. These tests include mammography and breast ultrasound, among others. A breast self-examination (BSE) allows women to know their breasts and to detect changes that may occur in them.

Why are breast exams important?

Breast cancer is one of the most prevalent cancers in women worldwide. Experts discovered that population-based breast cancer screening programs allow early detection of the disease in the majority of cases.

Screening programs detect the disease before symptoms appear, reducing morbidity and mortality and increasing the chances of recovery.

Different types of breast exams

There are different tests to study the breasts. In this regard, mammography and breast ultrasound are some of the most-used. These tests can visualize internal breast structures to detect any anomaly and, subsequently, to study them in more detail.

Mammography is the best-known test because, in most regions, it’s performed periodically in women from a certain age group. Mammography is part of the breast cancer screening program.

Breast ultrasound

This test is painless and fast. Medical professionals indicate a breast ultrasound mainly in young women because, as women become older, the best test to study the breasts is mammography.

Your physician or your gynecologist could order this test if they consider it necessary.


Mammography is the test all women from a certain age in most regions of the world should get as part of the breast cancer screening program.

Breast exams.

It’s usually performed before any symptoms appear, which means it allows disease detection (if any). Your doctor or gynecologist may also order it if they deem it appropriate.

A qualified technician performs it and a radiologist analyzes the results. It’s performed with mammography equipment, a device that can take several breast X-rays to study their internal structures. This test can be somewhat bothersome because the mammography equipment must press the breasts to take the X-rays.

Medical professionals indicate mammographies in middle-aged (40-45 years old) or older women because the breasts are no longer as dense as they were and this is the test that studies them best.

What’s a breast self-examination?

A breast self-examination consists of self-exploring your breasts in order to know them and be able to detect any changes early on. This isn’t a diagnostic test and, in many cases, it can create stress or anxiety in women who detect changes that end up being benign.

The changes you must be aware of are:

  • Changes in the breast’s color or skin texture (orange skin).
  • Nipple changes, as well as changes in nipple retraction.
  • Lumps or palpable masses (painful or not).
  • Nipple discharge.
  • Changes in breast shape or symmetry.

How to do it

To do a breast self-examination, you must follow these steps:

  1. Stand in front of a mirror, naked from the waist up.
  2. With your arms relaxed alongside your hips, observe your breasts. It’s important to observe their shape, size, and symmetry. Be aware of any deformities or visible changes.
  3. Now, raise your arms over your head and look at the same points as in the previous position. Also, observe your breasts after resting your hands on your hips.
  4. Press both nipples and check if any fluid comes out (nipple discharge).
  5. Feel your breasts while standing or sitting. Use your opposite hand to feel each breast. It’s important to feel your entire breast with your fingertips and make sure to keep your fingers together and straight. You can divide the breast into sections so you don’t forget any area. In addition, feel your underarm area.
  6. Lie down and feel your breasts in the same way.
A woman getting her breasts examinated.

The ideal time to feel the breasts varies if the woman still menstruates or has already reached menopause:

  • If the woman still menstruates. The ideal time for a breast self-examination is in the days right after her period. This is because the breasts won’t be as tender and swollen.
  • If the woman has reached menopause. Ideally, perform a breast self-examination once a month, the day it’s easier for you to remember.
    If you notice any changes in your breasts, contact a medical professional.

Things to remember about breast exams

It’s very important for you to go to your gynecological examinations and consult your health center if you need to get a mammography due to your age.

Remember that a breast self-examination isn’t a diagnostic test. However, it’s important for you to get to know your breasts to detect any changes that may appear in them. Your breast health is in your hands. Take care of yourself!

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Cancela-Ramos, M. A., Contreras-Hernández, J. M., Phinder-Puente, M., Acevedo-Marrero, A., & Sánchez-Valdivieso, E. A. (2016). Nivel de conocimiento sobre autoexploración mamaria en mujeres de 20 a 59 años de edad. Medicina e Investigación.
  • Gomez Delgado De La Flor Mario, Huayanay Santos Jorge Luis. (2002). Mamografía y Ecografía en la evaluación de las lesiones no palpables de la mama y su correlación anatomo-patológica. Rev Med Hered. 2002  Oct;  13( 4 ): 135-139.
  • Uchida S, M. (2009). MAMOGRAFIA DE SCREENING Y REALIDAD CHILENA. Revista Chilena de Radiología.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.