What is a clinical breast exam?

A clinical breast examination is an important component of breast cancer screening. The clinical examination is a physical exam of each breast by the hands and eyses of a trained practitioner. The examiner manually checks for any suspicious or unusual lump and visually inspects the breasts for any changes or abnormalities. Early detection is often advanced by competent clinical exams.

Who gets clinical breast exams?

While screening recommendations vary by agency, it is recommended that every woman receive a clinical breast exam every two three years starting at age 20, and yearly at age 40 and beyond. Screening for breast changes and abnormalities is an important part of every woman’s regular health care routine, and clinical examination is a critical  component of breast cancer screening.

How do clinical breast exams complement other screening methods?

A competent clinical breast exam is an essential element of early detection of abnormalities or changes that can be palpated (felt) or seen. Clinical breast exams also facilitate communication between providers and patients to discuss findings from self-exams and self-awareness activities. In cases where screening mammography is inappropriate (e.g., women with dense breasts and women under 40), clinical breast examination becomes a more significant component of early detection. A large portion of cancers first show up as a lump that was not present before and may be missed by screening mammograms even when felt by a woman and/or her doctor, emphasizing the importance of the clinical breast exam as a component of a full screening plan. Patients should discuss individual screening recommendations with their primary health care provider.

Who performs a clinical breast examination?

Often, a screening clinical breast exam is performed during a well-woman checkup or yearly exam. Registered nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians and radiologic technologists all may perform clinical breast exams although training and skill are necessary. A clinical breast exam is different from a breast self-exam; the clinical exam is performed by the health care professional while a self-exam is performed by a woman herself.

Are all clinical breast exams alike?

No. Most clinical breast exams include both a visual inspection of the breasts and a manual examination of breast tissue. Variations in training, protocol, and technique mean examinations may be different between providers. Health care professionals who have been certified in the MammaCare Method of clinical breast examination can be expected to perform uniformly thorough examinations, with high levels of sensitivity and specificity. The specialized training received by MammaCare certified clinicians standardizes their clinical breast examination practice and provides patients with medical best-practice screening techniques.

Where can I get a MammaCare clinical breast exam?

Graduates of MammaCare training programs who are certified as MammaCare Specialists and MammaCare Clinical Breast Examiners are qualified to perform this best-practice clinical breast exam. A breast exam performed according to the MammaCare Method will be more thorough and may take more time than other breast exams you have received. Search for a MammaCare Certified clinician in your area by clicking the link here: MammaCare Affiliates


An current list of references about clinical breast exams can be found here: https://mammacare.org/research/

additional reading:

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2011). Breast cancer screening. Practice Bulletin, 122(118), 372-382. PDF

Does This Patient Have Breast Cancer? The Screening Clinical Breast Examination: Should It Be Done? How?  Journal of the American Medical Association, 1999 Oct, 6: 283(13), 1687-9.  Barton, M.B., Harris, R. & Fletcher, S.W

Freund, K.M. (2004). Rationale and technique of clinical breast examination. Medscape General Medicine, 2(4). Full text

Gui, G.P. et. al. (2001). The incidence of breast cancer from screening women according to predicted family history risk: Does annual clinical examination add to mammography? European Journal of Cancer, 37(13), 1668-1673. Abstract

Oestreicher, N., et al. (2005). The incremental contribution of clinical breast examination to invasive cancer detection in a mammography screening program. American Journal of Roentgenology, 184(2), 428-432. Abstract

Stephenson, H.S., Adams, C.K., Hall, D.C., Pennypacker, H.S. (1979). Effects of certain training parameters on detection of simulated breast cancer. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 2, 239-250.