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Clinical Breast Exam

Most professional medical organizations recommend that a woman have periodic breast exams by a doctor or nurse along with regular screening mammograms. You may find it most convenient to schedule a breast exam during your routine physical.

Currently, mammography and breast exams by the doctor or nurse are the most common and useful techniques for finding breast cancer early. Other methods such as ultrasound may be helpful in clarifying a diagnosis for women who have suspicious breast changes.

What happens during a clinical breast exam

The doctor or other health provider will examine your breasts while you are sitting and while you are lying down. You may be asked to raise both arms over your head, let them hang by your sides, or to press your hands against your hips.

The examiner then checks your breasts carefully for changes in the skin such as dimpling, scaling, or puckering; any discharge from the nipples; or any difference in appearance between the two breasts, including differences in size or shape. The next step is palpation: using the fingers pads to feel for lumps, the examiner will systematically inspect the entire breast, the underarm, and the collarbone area, first on one side, then on the other.

A clinical breast exam done by a doctor or nurse can find some cancers missed by mammography, even very small ones. In addition to the skill and carefulness of the examiner, success of a physical exam can be influenced by your monthly cycle and by the size of your breast, as well as by the size and location of the lump itself.

To learn more about breast cancer, see the National Cancer Institute’s website at www.cancer.gov.

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