A clinical breast examination is an important part of routine physical checkups.

How often should I have a clinical breast exam?

A clinical breast examination by a health care provider (such as your primary care physician, advanced practice nurse, physician’s assistant, 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?

Clinical 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 health care provider.

If you have stopped menstruating, schedule the yearly exam on a day easy for you to remember, such as your birth date.

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What happens during a clinical breast 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. In a sitting position, your health care provider will look at your breasts to detect any changes in size or shape. Your health care 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. While you are in a lying position with your arms over your head, your health care provider will examine your breasts. The provider will use 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 for lumps or masses.

Your health care provider will gently press around your nipple to check for any discharge. If there is a nipple discharge during the exam, additional testing may be necessary.

Repeated clinical breast 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 will be charted or documented in the progress notes, making it easier to detect small changes at the next clinical breast examination.


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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: 1/29/2014...#8325