What is a Clinical Breast Exam?

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  • Written By: Madeleine A.
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2019
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The clinical breast exam (CBE)is the physical examination of the breast that is performed by a health care provider. The clinical breast exam can be performed in conjunction with the mammogram in the detection of breast cancer. In addition, the physical exam of the breast is used to rule out other conditions and problems of the breast. The clinical breast exam may be included in a routine medical check-up, however, the patient's health care provider may decide how often it should be performed. Frequently, the doctor or nurse will instruct the patient on the correct technique of performing a CBE so she can perform breast exams in between regular office visits.

Typically, aside from the routine breast exam, the CBE may be performed when a lump is found in the breast or if the patient is experiencing nipple discharge in one or both of the breasts. Although nipple discharge typically indicates hormonal fluctuations, it can signify a more serious pathology, such as a tumor. In addition, any new changes or irregularities in the breast, such as inverted nipples may warrant a clinical breast exam. Generally, pain in the breast is benign, however, it may signal new tissue growth or infection, and should be addressed. Often, women who have breast implants may need to be extra vigilant about examining their breasts, as lumps may be more difficult to detect.


Generally, the clinical breast exam is performed in the office of the health care provider. The patient will be asked to disrobe above the waist and will put on a gown. Prior to the breast exam, the patient should tell her health professional if she has noticed any areas of irregularities in her breasts. Next, the patient will lie down on the exam table, and the doctor or nurse will begin examining each breast. The CBE should also include underarm and collarbone palpation, as well as a visual inspection of the breasts. Typically, a dominant lump in the breast or nipple retraction will warrant further medical evaluation.

Usually, a clinical breast exam is not painful, however, it may feel uncomfortable because deep palpation is often necessary to adequately examine breast tissue. Generally, it is normal for the breasts to feel lumpy or tender, especially at the time of menstruation. If the clinical breast exam reveals an abnormality, the health care provider may recommend further testing that may include a mammogram, ultrasound or a breast biopsy to rule out serious pathology.


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Post 2

A competent health care provider should also examine a woman's breasts with her arms raised, and at her side. This can change the way the breast feels and sometimes will make a lump more palpable.

My doctor always examines me with my arms in both positions. She said a woman should also do this during a breast self-exam for the same reasons. She also said doing the BSE in front of a mirror is also helpful since sometimes, an inverted nipple is only visible from the front and not by looking down at the breast. It's also helpful in spotting abnormally dimpled skin.

Post 1

Most of the time, a clinical breast exam is just the health care provider checking the breasts for lumps or irregularities. A male doctor will usually make sure a female nurse is present for the exam, and a female patient should insist on one if a female nurse or aide is not in the room.

My health care providers are all female, and I am more comfortable with them finding an irregularity if one exists, simply because when you "own the equipment," you're more apt to understand what should and should not be part of healthy breast tissue.

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