What Is a Clinical Breast Exam?

March 21, 2017

What is a clinical breast exam?

A clinical breast exam (CBE)?is performed by a trained medical professional. It includes a visual examination and palpation (feeling) of the entire breast and underarm area. It is performed in both sitting and lying down positions.

Why should I have a clinical breast exam?

Clinical breast exams may help detect breast cancer early, when it's best treated.

How is a clinical breast exam performed?

Your health care provider will look at your breasts in different positions and will check carefully for changes in the skin, discharge from the nipples or difference in size and shape between the two breasts. The next step is palpation. Using the pads of the fingers to feel for lumps, your provider will inspect the entire breast and underarm, first on one side, then on the other.

A lump is generally the size of a pea before a skilled examiner can detect it.

How often should I have a clinical breast exam?

The American Cancer Society recommends clinical breast exams at least every three years for all women in their 20s and 30s. The ACS recommends annual CBEs for women ages 40 and older. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, however, believes there is not enough evidence to assess the value of CBEs for women ages 40 and older. Women should talk with their doctors about their personal risk factors and make a decision about whether they should have a CBE.

Risk factors for breast cancer may include:

  • Being over 50 or postmenopausal

  • A family history of breast cancer

  • Having had no pregnancies or a first pregnancy after age 3

  • Obesity

  • Heavy alcohol use (women who have 2 to 5 drinks daily have about 1? times the risk of women who drink no alcohol)

  • Beginning menstruation before age 12 or going through menopause after age 55


March 21, 2017

Reviewed By:  

Godsey, Cynthia M.S., M.S.N., APRN,Lambert, J.G. M.D.,Sylvia ByrdSylvia Byrd RN MBA