What is a clinical breast exam (CBE)?
A clinical breast exam (CBE) is a physical exam done by a health
care provider as part of your regular medical checkup. Your provider should
carefully feel your breasts and underarm for any changes or abnormalities (such
as a lump). He/she should visually check your breasts while you are sitting up
and physically examine your breasts while you are lying down.
Who should perform a clinical breast exam?
A CBE is performed by a health care provider well trained in the
technique (this may be a physician, nurse practitioner or other medical staff).
Not all providers have this training, so it is important to ask for a CBE if one
is not offered.
At what age should I start getting clinical breast exams?
Starting at age 20, CBE is part of routine breast cancer
screening for women. When you begin having mammograms, CBE complement these
Accuracy of clinical breast exam
CBE can be helpful in finding tumors in women under age 40 (for
whom mammography is not recommended).
In women ages 40 and older, CBE combined with mammography may
detect more cancers than mammography alone. When used together at yearly
check-ups, fewer breast cancers are missed. Although an important complement to
mammography, CBE is not a substitute for mammograms in women 40 and older.
Most health organizations recommend CBE as a part of regular
breast cancer screening. However, there are some drawbacks to its use. One
downside is the increased chance of false positive results that require
follow-up tests. False positives occur when a CBE shows something that looks
like cancer, but turns out to be benign (not cancer). One large study found that
the chance of having a false positive result after 10 yearly CBE was a little
over 20 percent.
Thinking a false positive result is breast cancer until cancer
is ruled out can cause fear and worry. However, this does not outweigh the
life-saving value of regular screening.