Self & Clinical Breast Exams

Breast Self-Exam (BSE)

Breast self-exam is an option for women starting in their 20's. In addition to breast self-exam, you should also have recommended mammograms and clinical breast exams as directed by your health care provider.

If you perform breast self-exams on a regular basis, you will become familiar with how your breasts normally look and feel, allowing you to easily notice changes. Many women have a pattern of lumpiness in their breasts, which is normal. A breast self-exam should include the breasts, armpits, neck and chest area. Download and print out a step-by-step guide to doing a breast self-exam. The Susan G. Komen Foundation website also offers an interactive breast self-exam tutorial in English, Spanish, Hindi and Chinese.

If you suspect changes in your breasts, notify your health care provider right away.

Clinical Breast Exam (CBE)

This is a physical exam performed by your health care provider that includes the breasts, armpits, neck and chest area. Women in their 20's and 30's should have a clinical breast exam (CBE) as part of a regular exam at least every three years. After age 40, women should have a clinical breast exam every year.


Women 40 and older should have a screening mammogram every year for as long as they are in good health. While mammograms can miss some breast cancers, they are still the only Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved screening tool.

Screening (Routine) Mammogram

A screening mammogram is the typical routine mammogram most women have to stay on top of their breast health and to potentially detect and identify any developing issues. The National Cancer Institute recommends that women 40 years of age and older should have a screening mammogram every one to two years. Learn more about our latest imaging technology, 3D mammography.

Diagnostic Mammogram

A diagnostic mammogram is more involved than a typical screening mammogram, and is usually conducted after a lump or other area for concern is detected in a screening mammogram, or after a patient has experienced symptoms warranting further investigation. Diagnostic mammograms typically take longer than screening mammograms, as the breast imaging specialist may require additional views or angles to accurately diagnose the patient's symptoms.

Preparing for a Mammogram

  • To help minimize discomfort during mammography, schedule your mammogram to take place one week after your period (when breasts are less tender).
  • If possible, bring previous mammograms with you, or bring a list of where and when you have had previous mammograms.
  • On the day of your mammogram, do not wear powder, deodorant, lotion or perfume under your arms or on your breasts. These substances can make it harder to interpret the images.
  • Any breast symptoms or problems you are experiencing should be described to the technologist performing the mammogram. Also, be prepared to discuss any pertinent history, such as prior surgeries, hormone use, family or personal history of breast cancer.
  • Print out and complete the Patient History Form and bring it with you to your appointment.

For more information on breast imaging, please visit the Emory Breast Imaging Center.

Confused about current breast cancer screening guidelines? Learn about Emory's position on breast cancer screening.