A clinical breast exam (CBE) is a physical exam done by a health care provider as part of your regular medical check-up. Your provider should carefully feel your breasts and underarm for any changes or abnormalities (such as a lump). He/she should visually check your breasts while you are sitting up and physically examine your breasts while you are lying down. It is important to ask for a CBE if one is not offered at your check-up.
Sources for images: National Cancer Institute and Susan G. Komen
A CBE should be performed by a health care provider well trained in the technique (this may be a physician, nurse practitioner or other medical staff). Not all providers have this training.
Starting at age 20, CBE is generally recommended as part of breast cancer screening for women. CBE continues to be part of routine screening, even after you begin having mammograms.
Figure 3.1 lists the breast cancer screening recommendations from some major health organizations.
Breast self-awareness messages include knowing your risk, getting screening, knowing what is normal for you and making healthy lifestyle choices. These messages can be used to increase awareness and empower people to take action and make informed choices about their health.
Susan G. Komen’s breast self-awareness messages
1. Know your risk
2. Get screened
3. Know what is normal for you and see your health care provider if you notice any of these breast changes (see images):
4. Make healthy lifestyle choices
In women younger than 40 (for whom mammography is not recommended), CBE can be helpful in finding breast cancer.
In women ages 40 and older, CBE combined with mammography may find more breast cancers than mammography alone. When used together at yearly check-ups, fewer breast cancers are missed [32,39]. However, CBE is not a substitute for mammograms in women 40 and older.
Most health organizations recommend CBE as a part of routine breast cancer screening. However, there are some drawbacks to its use. One downside is the increased chance of false positive results that require follow-up tests [32,39]. False positives occur when a CBE finds something that looks or feels like cancer, but turns out to be benign (not cancer). One large study found the chance of having a false positive result after 10 yearly CBE was about 20 percent .
Getting a false positive result can cause fear and worry . However, the goal of clinical breast exams is to find as many cancers as possible, not to avoid false positive results.
Facts for Life: Breast Cancer Detection