A clinical breast exam (CBE) is a physical exam done by a health care provider. It's often done during your regular medical check-up.
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.
The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) recommends a trained provider carefully feel your breasts, underarm and the area just below your clavicle (breast bone) for any changes or abnormalities (such as a lump) .
The provider will visually check your breasts while you are sitting up and physically examine your breasts while you are lying down.
If a CBE is not offered at your check-up and you would like one, ask your provider if he or she can perform one (or refer you to someone who can).
Figure 3.1 lists breast cancer screening recommendations from some major health organizations.
The American Cancer Society does not recommend CBE for breast cancer screening . The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force feels there's not enough scientific evidence to recommend for or against CBE .
However, the NCCN recommends women start CBE at age 25 and continue after they begin having mammograms .
For most women, a clinical breast exam will find no signs of breast cancer.
If your exam does find something abnormal, you’ll need follow-up tests to check whether or not the finding is breast cancer.
Learn about follow-up after an abnormal clinical breast exam.
False positives occur when a CBE finds something that looks or feels like cancer, but turns out not to be cancer.
Getting a false positive result leads to follow-up tests, and can cause fear and worry [28,30-31].
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 Screening & Follow-up Tests