Womens Health

Clinical Breast Exam

Early detection of the symptoms of breast cancer is a crucial element in breast cancer prevention. Early diagnosis can increase the availability of different breast cancer treatment options and influence the success of these breast cancer treatments.

There are several types of breast exams that may be performed in order to identify early signs of breast cancer that can lead to breast cancer diagnosis. The most common of these breast exam procedures are the breast self exam, the mammogram, and the physical breast or clinical breast exam.


What Is A Clinical Breast Exam?

A clinical breast examination (CBE) can be performed as part of a routine physical exam by your health care provider. Your physician or nurse will first ask you questions about your medical and health history before beginning the breast exam.

During a clinical breast exam, the patient will be asked to lie on her back and undress from the waist up. You may be asked to either raise your arms over your head, or lean forward with your hands on your hips.

The health examiner will then inspect both breasts for any visual abnormalities, and gently palpate each breast with their fingers. They will also thoroughly check the areas under the arms, and may squeeze the nipples to look for abnormal discharge.

It is a good idea to ask your doctor any questions you may have about administering self breast exams during your clinical breast examination, as this is a key component in early breast cancer detection and breast cancer awareness.


What Can A Clinical Breast Exam Detect?

Your health professional will look for breast cancer symptoms that can include skin rashes, shape and texture changes, or dimpling. They will also look for any breast lumps and take note of their locations as well as whether or not they are connected to deeper tissue. The areas under both arms will also be inspected, and any unusual nipple discharge may be taken as a sample for analysis.

In some cases, symptoms of breast cancer that are not detected during mammography can be detected during routine clinical breast exams, making the combination of breast self exams, clinical breast exams, and mammography a complete breast examination, which is especially recommended for older or high risk women.


Who Should Get A Clinical Breast Exam?

It is recommended that women begin getting clinical breast exams every three years at the age of 20. For women over the age of 40, an annual clinical breast exam is recommended, and a more frequent clinical breast examination may be required for women at high risk of breast cancer due to medical and family history.

Women who notice the following potential breast cancer symptoms during a self breast exam should seek a clinical breast examination as soon as possible:


  • A new lump in the breast or armpit or any thickening that does not shrink after your next menstrual cycle
  • Change in size or shape of the breasts, including unusual swelling
  • Dimples or indents in the breasts
  • Red or scaly skin in the breast and nipple regions
  • Unusual nipple irritation, discharge, or changes

    When scheduling a routine clinical breast exam, try to make an appointment on a date soon after your menstrual period, as this will ensure that breasts are not swollen and tender which can make it more difficult to detect changes in abnormalities. Receiving clinical breast exams, and becoming aware of exams that you can perform at home, will ensure that you are aware and alert to your body’s changes, and give you peace of mind.


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