A breast examination is an important part of routine physical checkups.
How often should I have a clinical breast exam?
A breast physical examination by a health care provider (such as your family
physician, nurse, or gynecologist) should be performed every year starting at
age 20. A clinical breast exam may be recommended more frequently if you have a
strong family history of breast cancer.
When should I schedule a clinical breast exam?
Breast exams are best performed soon after your menstrual period ends,
because your breasts will not be as tender and swollen as during the menstrual
period. However, this should not be a reason to cancel your visit with your provider.
This makes it easier for the provider to detect any unusual
changes. If you have stopped menstruating, schedule the yearly exam on a day
easy for you to remember, such as your birthdate.
What happens during a breast physical exam?
Your health care provider will ask you detailed questions about your health
history, including your menstrual and pregnancy history. Questions might include
at what age you started menstruating and how old you were when your first child
was born, if applicable.
A thorough breast exam will be performed. Your health care
provider will look at your breasts to detect any changes in size or shape. Your
provider may ask you to lift your arms over your head, put your hands on your
hips, or lean forward. He or she will examine your breasts for any skin changes
including rashes, dimpling, or redness. As you lay on your back with your arms
behind your head, your health care provider will examine your breasts with the
pads of the fingers to detect lumps, dense masses, tenderness, or other changes
in the breast tissue. The area under both arms will also be examined.
Your health care provider will gently press around your nipple
to check for any discharge. If there is a nipple discharge, a sample may be
collected to be examined under a microscope so cancer cells can be detected.
Repeated examinations by a health care provider may bring
attention to areas that require additional testing, such as benign lumps and
masses or areas of thickening. Areas that have changed or may cause concern can
be charted or documented on a diagram, making it easier to detect small changes
at the next examination.
Complete breast cancer screening
Clinical and breast self examination are important methods of early breast
cancer detection and should be performed along with mammography. All three of
these methods provide complete breast cancer screening.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 1/11/2008...#8325