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Clinical Breast Exam vs. Mammogram: Which is Better?

admin - October 25, 2013

clinical breast exam vs mamogram

Many women want to know the best way to figure out their breast health and breast cancer risk while remaining mindful of costs. Both regular breast exams and mammograms are important tools in the early detection of breast cancer.


Clinical Breast Exam (CBE)

A clinical breast exam, also known as CBE, is performed by a medical professional such as a nurse, doctor, nurse practitioner of physician assistant. During the test, the patient will be undressed above their waist. The healthcare professional will then do the following:

  • Visually inspect the breasts for areas where the size or shape appears to be abnormal or irregular
  • Look for any changes around the patient’s nipples
  • Using their fingers the medical professional will gently feel for areas of abnormality.

Portions of the exam may be uncomfortable, but the test should not be painful. The CBE is a good opportunity to learn the process of doing a self-exam. Self-exams are an excellent method of breast cancer screening. By performing a self-exam every month, women are better equipped to notice a change or catch abnormalities in their breasts early on.



Mammograms are conducted by X-raying the breast. During the mammogram, the breast is placed between two plates that spread the tissue to allow for better imaging. Images are taken from two different angles to provide the best possible images. This process is done on both breasts. During the mammogram:

  • The patient is required to disrobe above the waist
  • The technician will position your breast on the lower plate
  • When the images are taken, the upper plate will compress your breast for a brief time to spread the tissue to get the best images.

Mammograms can be performed on most women including those who:

  • Have large breasts
  • Are breast feeding
  • Have breast implants

The entire mammogram takes about 20 minutes to complete. Results of the mammogram are provided after the X-rays are reviewed by a physician. Mammograms may be uncomfortable, but they are excellent methods for detecting various stages of breast cancer or breast abnormalities.


Which Screening Method is Best?

According to the American Cancer Society, women over age 40 should have mammograms on an annual basis. For those women under age 40, with a normal breast cancer risk, with no symptoms of breast cancer, a CBE every three years is sufficient.
For women with above average breast cancer risk, breast cancer screening via mammogram and MRI may be recommended. Women should talk to their doctors to determine the best screening method for them.

Life Line Screening offers many resources on breast cancer during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, including information on the Breast Cancer Screening Debate, Genetic Testing for Breast Cancer, and Why Some Women Ignore their Breast Cancer Risk.


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