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Clinical Breast Exam

Many health organizations recommend a yearly clinical breast exam. This exam may be done by a gynecologist, family healthcare provider, nurse practitioner, or specially trained nurse. Yearly breast exams help to make sure that breast conditions are found early.


Your healthcare provider’s roleHealth care provider explaining breast self exam.

A healthcare professional knows the tests and follow-up care needed if a problem is found. Your clinical exam is also a great time to ask questions about breast self-exams (BSE). You can find out whether you’re doing BSE in the most effective way. Or you may want to ask how pregnancy, breast implants, or breast reduction surgery affect the way you should examine your breasts.

Diagnostic tests

If a clinical exam reveals a breast change, you may have other tests to find out more. These tests may include:

  • Mammography uses low-dose X-rays used to create images of the tissue inside the breast.

  • Ultrasound uses sound waves to create images of the breast.

  • Biopsy is the removal of a small amount of breast tissue by needle or incision. The tissue is then examined under a microscope.

Guidelines for having clinical breast exams

The American Cancer Society recommends starting at age 20, you should have a clinical breast exam preferably every 3 years. After age 40, have a clinical breast exam each year. If you’re at higher risk for breast cancer, you may need exams more often. Risk factors for breast cancer may include:

  • Being over 50 or postmenopausal

  • A family history of breast cancer

  • Having the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation or certain other gene mutations

  • Having more menstrual periods due to starting menstruation at an early age (before age 12) or having a late menopause (after age 55)

  • Having had no pregnancies or a first pregnancy after age 30

  • Obesity

  • A history of having radiation treatment to the chest area

  • Exposure to DES during your mother's pregnancy

  • Sedentary lifestyle

  • Heavy alcohol use

  • Having dense breast tissue

  • Taking hormone therapy after menopause

Other health organizations have different recommendations. Talk to your healthcare provider about what is best for you.

Online Medical Reviewer: Foster, Sara, RN, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Horowitz, Diane, MD
Last Review Date: 8/13/2015
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