For most women, the results of a clinical breast exam (CBE) will be good news. The exam will find no signs of breast cancer.
If your exam does find something abnormal, you will need follow-up tests to check whether or not the finding is breast cancer.
Take heart that most abnormal findings are not breast cancer. Sometimes follow-up tests show something less serious, like a benign (not cancer) breast condition. And, sometimes they show the breast tissue is normal.
Learn more about benign breast conditions.
If your CBE finds something abnormal, the exact follow-up tests that will be done depend on the type of finding and your age. Follow-up most often begins with the least invasive tests (such as a diagnostic mammogram or a breast ultrasound). If needed, you will have more invasive tests (such as a biopsy).
The most common abnormal finding from a CBE is a lump (also called a palpable mass because it can be felt).
Your health care provider will check whether the lump is fluid-filled or solid. If it is fluid-filled, it is most likely a cyst. Cysts are a benign (not cancer) breast condition and often do not need treatment (more on cysts).
If the breast lump is solid, it is more likely to be breast cancer and often needs more testing.
In women under 30, most breast lumps are benign. Follow-up usually begins with a breast ultrasound and possibly a diagnostic mammogram. For some women, however, the first step may be observation. This involves re-checking the lump after one or two menstrual periods to see if it goes away (often the case). If you are not comfortable waiting, talk to your health care provider or get a second opinion.
Some women will need a biopsy to confirm whether or not the lump is breast cancer.
Learn more about biopsies and breast cancer diagnosis.
For women 30 and older, follow-up on a breast lump usually begins with a follow-up mammogram (may be called a diagnostic mammogram) and a breast ultrasound. Some women will need a biopsy to check whether or not the lump is breast cancer.
Other abnormal findings during a CBE may include (see pictures):
As with a lump, these findings need proper follow-up to be sure they are not breast cancer.
Clinical Breast Exam