Clinical Breast Exam
Many health organizations recommend a yearly clinical breast exam. This exam may be done by a gynecologist, family healthcare provider, nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, or specially trained nurse. Yearly breast exams help to make sure that breast conditions are found early.
Your healthcare provider’s role
A healthcare professional knows the tests and follow-up care needed if a problem is found. Your clinical exam is also a great time to ask questions about breast self-exams. You can find out if you’re checking your breasts in the best way. Or you may want to ask how pregnancy, breast implants, or breast reduction surgery affect the way you should check your breasts.
If a clinical exam reveals a breast change, you may have other tests to find out more. These tests may include:
Mammography. A low-dose X-ray of your breast tissue.
Ultrasound. An imaging test that uses sound waves to create images of your breast.
Biopsy. A small amount of breast tissue is removed by needle or by a cut (incision). The tissue is then checked under a microscope.
Guidelines for having clinical breast exams
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that starting at age 29, you should have a clinical breast exam every 1 to 3 years. After age 40, have a clinical breast exam each year. If you’re at higher risk for breast cancer, you may need exams more often. Risk factors for breast cancer may include:
Being over 50 or postmenopausal
Having a family history of breast cancer
Having the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation or certain other gene mutations
Having more menstrual periods due to starting menstruation early (before age 12) or having a late menopause (after age 55)
Having no pregnancies
Having a first pregnancy after age 30
Having a history of radiation treatment to your chest area
Exposure to DES during your mother's pregnancy
Not being active
Drinking too much alcohol
Having dense breast tissue
Taking hormone therapy after menopause
Other health organizations have different recommendations. Talk with your healthcare provider about what is best for you.
November 19, 2017
Bryan, Teresa. The Clinical Breast Exam: A Skill that Should Not Be Abandoned. Journal of General Internal Medicine. 2013: iss. 28, 5th ed., pp. 719-722., Mammography and other screening tests for breast problems. ACOG., Provencher, L. Is clinical breast examination important for breast cancer detection? Current Oncology. 2016: iss. 23, 4th ed., e332-e339.
Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP,Horowitz, Diane, MD,Image reviewed by StayWell art team.