Breast exam: does it hurt? Know what types and when to do

In the month of October, there is a lot of emphasis on breast cancer and the tests that are done to prevent and diagnose this disease.

But, in fact, this issue must be taken seriously and discussed all the time, as it compromises the health and lives of thousands of women in the four corners of the world.

For this reason, the editorial staff of Hickey solution brings a text especially about breast exams, which have an extremely relevant role during all 12 months of the year.


What is a breast exam?

Breast exams are methods that consist of feeling, pressing or using devices in the region of the breasts, to discover nodules, cysts or tumors. Doing them according to the medical recommendation and in a correct way helps in the prevention of breast diseases such as breast cancer.

These tests have two complementary purposes: prevention and diagnosis of cysts, nodules or abnormalities in the breasts.

It is also worth remembering that breast self-examination alone is not enough. It should be done in combination with other more thorough tests, especially for women over 40.

Names of breast exams: what types are there?

There are several types of breast exam. Some can be done alone, at home. For others, it is necessary to go to a clinic or hospital, where you will be led by a medical team.

Know a little more about each one of them:

Self exam

Self-examination, popularly known as “touch examination”, is performed by the woman herself at a time and in an environment in which she feels comfortable (during the bath or even lying in bed, for example).

To do this, it is necessary to remove the top pieces (blouses, shirts and bras or tops).

Then, the woman should raise one arm and with the other hand feel the breast trying to see if there are any balls or lumps.

It is important to emphasize that this must be done in both breasts. That is, first do it on the right breast using your left hand and then reverse the process.

If you notice something different, it is important to note:

  • If there is pain or swelling in the area that is touched;
  • If the ball increases in size;
  • If the lump moves or remains in the same place as the breast.

Self-examination can also be done in front of a mirror, which allows you to look not only for abnormal volumes, but also for suspicious spots.

Although it is highly recommended, this examination alone is not enough to give an accurate and early diagnosis. Therefore, it should be done once a month, but it should not replace medical visits and other imaging exams.

If the woman has doubts, the ideal is to consult a mastologist so that the professional can evaluate correctly.

Physical exam

This exam is very similar to the touch exam. The only difference is that the probing of the breasts is done by a mastologist or gynecologist.

In addition to palpating the breasts, the health professional should also check the area of ​​the armpits and collarbones to check the structure around the breasts.


mammogram is one of the most famous breast exams. In a very general way, it can be said that this test is like an X-ray . That is, it is nothing more than images to assess the health of the breasts.

It is the main form of diagnosis of breast cancer. Of course, other breast diseases can also be identified, especially those that are at an early stage.

Thus, it can also be used as a form of prevention, since the sooner the nodules or tumors are discovered, the greater the chance of preventing their progression.

On the internet, it is rumored that mammography can also cause cancer. However, the Brazilian Mastology Society guarantees that all mammography is safe .

To do the mammogram, the woman must remove the clothes from the top. Then, the breast is placed on an acrylic platform that will press the breast, generating images.


This exam is very similar to mammography, but it allows the medical professional to have a three-dimensional (3D) view of the breast.

The way the exam is performed is also the same as conventional mammography: exposed and flattened breasts by a machine that emits radiation.

But the images of breast tissue are formed from several different angles. This makes the diagnosis more accurate and reduces the chances that a tumor is hidden.


The method in which this test is performed is also similar to mammography. The main difference is that the machine used for the test has a copper filter capable of detecting only the areas that received iodine in the last minutes.

Therefore, for the angiomamography exam, it is necessary for the patient to take the iodine-based contrast injection (it allows the structures to be better evaluated), in addition to fasting for 4 hours.

This decreases the chances of false positive results, as well as being super-fast. In 10 minutes it is possible to have a correct diagnosis of any disease and the severity of the situation.

However, angiomamography cannot be done by everyone: women with silicone prostheses, who have severe kidney diseases or who are allergic to iodine are contraindicated to undergo the exam.


Ultrasound of the breasts is indicated for cases in which the breast tissue is very dense, which allows nodules and tumors to remain hidden.

The exam is very similar to a traditional ultrasound, except that it is done specifically in the breast region. That is, the test is non-invasive and does not cause pain.

This method is widely used in younger patients, who do not yet have flabby breasts.

It is quite effective for differentiating tumors, nodules and cysts. Precisely for this reason, it is commonly done to complement other tests, such as mammography.

Breast resonance

MRI is used in more rare cases, usually when the woman has metastatic cancer (spread to other parts of the body besides the breasts).

This is because it allows you to view not only the breasts, but other areas around the breasts, such as the lungs, the heart and the stomach.

For this examination to be carried out, the patient lies face down with her breasts inside a device that emits radiation and thus allows the internal structure of the breasts to be seen.

It is considered a time-consuming exam, and can take between 45 minutes and 1 hour.

Conventional and digital mammography: which is better?

Mammography is an image exam that allows the diagnosis of abnormalities in breast tissue. But did you know that this exam has also evolved technologically? Recently, she won a digital version, ensuring that images collected from patients’ breasts have more quality and visibility.

These advantages of digital mammography have helped to diagnose breast abnormalities even earlier, increasing the chances of a cure.

Such an examination can mainly benefit younger women who tend to have denser breast tissue.

However, both are effective for a diagnosis, as long as they are made and evaluated by professionals.

What is the breast exam for?

Breast exams are used to discover the presence or absence of a lump in the breasts. In these cases, they can help, as a form of early diagnosis of breast cancer. They can also be used to diagnose how advanced a tumor is growing, for example.

When these changes are detected before, there are more chances of cure.

For example, nodules smaller than 1 cm have up to a 95% chance of recovery if they are discovered early on.

What is the importance of taking the breast?

Regardless of the type, breast exams are essential to diagnose lumps or tumors that can develop and cause complications, the most famous being breast cancer. Other diseases such as calcifications in the breasts and mastitis (infection of the breast tissue) can also be detected.

In addition to the discovery of these diseases (allowing for adequate treatment), it is important to note that breast exams have an extremely important role in preventing these same complications. 

For example, a mammogram with a clear image allows you to diagnose lumps that can become malignant 3 years before the initial symptoms of cancer appear.

With all this time of advantage, it is possible to carry out treatments or medical follow-ups to combat the advance of sick cells before they even manifest.

How is the breast exam done?

Each exam has its specificities.

During mammography, it is necessary to remove the top clothes. The breasts are flattened by a machine, which can cause mild pain and discomfort. This compression is necessary so that the thickness and distribution of the breast is more homogeneous, which contributes to a clear image of the breast tissue.

The tomosynthesis exam is done in a very similar way to mammography. The only difference is that it allows a 3D view of the breast tissue, which contributes to a more accurate medical evaluation.

Ultrasonography also requires the woman to have bare breasts. The doctor applies a gel on the breasts. Then, a small device is slid under the breasts. It allows the professional to see nodule images on the computer screen.

Does it hurt to take the breast?

Most people tend to cope well with breast exams, experiencing only mild pain or discomfort.

Of course, there are women who have a breast that is more sensitive to touch. In these cases, the ideal is to schedule the mammogram for a date on which the patient is not menstruating, since at that time, the breasts may become more sensitive due to the released hormones.

Depending on the situation, it is also worth notifying the mastologist that you have sensitive breasts. Thus, it can help to make the exam more comfortable.

How often is it necessary to do breast exams?

The frequency with which breast examinations should be performed varies depending on the type of examination.

Calm down, let’s explain:

Self exam

As stated before, self-examination (one that a woman does alone) should not replace other breast exams performed in laboratories.

In fact, its main function is prevention. That is, when doing the touch exam alone, the woman may feel small lumps that should be investigated by imaging tests, under the guidance of a medical professional.

It must be done all month. Women who menstruate may choose to do so on days of the cycle when the breasts are less sensitive.

Women who no longer menstruate can schedule a fixed day for the exam every month. This is also a good tip for those who have difficulty remembering to take the test.

Laboratory tests

When we talk about breast exams that are done in laboratories (such as mammography or ultrasound), the frequency varies according to the patient’s age.

Most women should do this once a year, after the age of 40 (this practice is known as mammographic screening).

Before that, they are only performed if the patient has a family history of breast diseases or if there are medical recommendations.

Women over 70 years old , although they should continue to go to the gynecologist, will do the tests only if necessary.

In cases of follow-up of nodules or tumors, breast exams can be done every 6 or 3 months, according to the medical advice for each case.

What is the right age to have a breast exam?

All women over 40 must undergo breast exams such as mammography. If the woman is predisposed to develop breast disease or still has a family history of breast complications, prevention tests should start earlier: after 30 years of age.

The self-examination, also called the touch exam, can be done from adolescence, when the girl has her menarche (first menstruation).

Give preference to do this exam on a day that does not coincide with menstruation, as the breasts may be more painful and swollen.

Which specialist does the breast exam

Breast exams such as ultrasound, MRI and mammography should always be done with the accompaniment or supervision of a mastologist. This professional can also assist clinically or perform puncture (biopsy) and breast surgery.

Another medical specialty that can give guidance, request MRIs and CT scans and do the touch exam is the gynecologist.

Breast exams are essential to ensure better quality of life and health for all women. Thus, it is possible to prevent breast diseases effectively and safely. The Healthy Minute team brings a lot of other information about health exams . Check out our posts !!!