What is a clinical breast exam?

A clinical breast examination is one of the three important components of breast cancer screening. Along with self-exam/self-awareness and imaging techniques, clinical examination helps assess breast health and identify any changes. During a clinical breast exam, a health care provider visually and manually checks a patient’s breasts for normal life-cycle changes and looks for any changes or abnormalities to promote early detection.

Who gets clinical breast exams?

While screening recommendations vary slightly by agency, it is generally recommended that every woman receives a clinical breast exam every 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 one component of breast cancer screening.

How do clinical breast exams complement other screening methods?

A competent clinical breast exam adds another layer of observation to promote early detection of abnormalities and/or changes. Clinical breast exams may also facilitate communication between providers and patients to discuss findings from self-exam and self-awareness activities. In cases where screening mammography is inappropriate (e.g., women under 40), clinical breast examination may become a more significant component of breast cancer screening. While mammography is a highly sensitive imaging technique, a portion of cancers are missed by screening mammograms that are able to be 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. Physicians (such as OB/GYNs or family practice doctors), nurse practitioners, registered nurses, and radiologic technologists all may perform clinical breast exams. A clinical breast exam is different from a breast self-exam; the clinical exam is performed by a 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


American Cancer Society. (2014). Breast Cancer Prevention and Early Detection. PDF

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