A breast examination is an important part of routine physical checkups.
A breast physical examination by a health care provider (such as your family
physician, nurse, or gynecologist) should be performed at least every three
years starting at age 20 and every year starting at age 40. A clinical
breast exam may be recommended more frequently if you have a strong family
history of breast cancer.
Breast exams are best performed soon after your menstrual period ends,
because your breasts will not be as tender and swollen as during the
This makes it easier for the provider to detect any unusual changes. If you
have stopped menstruating, schedule the yearly exam on a day easy for you to
remember, such as your birthdate.
Your health care provider will ask you detailed questions about your health
history, including your menstrual and pregnancy history. Questions might
include at what age you started menstruating and how old you were when your
first child was born, if applicable.
A thorough breast exam will be performed. Your health care provider will
look at your breasts to detect any changes in size or shape. Your provider
may ask you to lift your arms over your head, put your hands on your hips,
or lean forward. He or she will examine your breasts for any skin changes
including rashes, dimpling, or redness. As you lay on your back with your
arms behind your head, your health care provider will examine your breasts
with the pads of the fingers to detect lumps, dense masses, tenderness, or
other changes in the breast tissue. The area under both arms will also be
Your health care provider will gently press around your nipple to check for
any discharge. If there is a nipple discharge, a sample may be collected to
be examined under a microscope so cancer cells can be detected.
examinations by a health care provider may bring attention to areas that
require additional testing, such as benign lumps and masses or areas of
thickening. Areas that have changed or may cause concern can be charted or
documented on a diagram, making it easier to detect small changes at the
Clinical and breast self examination are important methods of early breast
cancer detection and should be performed along with mammography. All three
of these methods provide complete breast cancer screening.