A clinical breast examination (CBE) is a physical examination of your breasts by a trained medical or health professional, such as a physician, nurse practitioner, nurse, or physician’s assistant. CBE includes inspection (looking) and palpation (feeling) of the entire breast/chest area including the lymph node areas above and below the collarbone and under each arm. Women should discuss breast-self examination techniques and personal findings with the healthcare professional performing their CBE. Women should also use the CBE session as an opportunity to learn how to correctly perform breast self-exam.
For the CBE examination, the patient undresses from the waist up. Using the pads of the fingers, the examiner will gently palpate (feel) each breast. Special attention will be given to the shape and texture of the breasts, location of any lumps, and whether such lumps are attached to the skin or to deeper tissues. The armpits and areas under both arms will also be examined.
A small percentage of breast cancers are not detected by mammography but can be felt during a clinical breast examination. Therefore it is important that a woman have both her mammogram and clinical breast exam done in the same month.
The earliest sign of breast cancer is usually an abnormality that shows up on an annual mammogram before a woman or her health care provider can feel it. The National Cancer Institute estimates that mammography can often detect very small cancers up to two years before it can be discovered by physical exam.