What is a clinical breast exam?

Clinical breast exams are routine physical exams done by a doctor trained in performing breast exams or CBEs. They are usually part of a standard yearly checkup for women over the age of 40 and may be accompanied by other breast cancer screening methods. During clinical breast exams, the doctor applies pressure to the skin to feel for abnormalities or changes in the breast tissue, clavicle (directly below the breastbone), and underarm area.

What are the risks?

There are no known risks associated with routine clinical breast exams. If an abnormality is detected, you may be advised to undergo additional cancer screening or tests that do have potential risks. Talk with your doctor to see if additional breast cancer screenings are recommended given your family history, age, and other risk factors.

While clinical breast exams may feel uncomfortable, especially for women with tender breasts, there are no specific side effects of a clinical breast exam. The pressure your doctor uses to check for abnormalities in the breast, underarm, and clavicle tissue should be firm but not painful.

What are the benefits?

While there are no data showing that clinical breast exams lower the risk of developing advanced stages of cancer, these exams are widely accepted as a best practice for early detection. Early detection of breast cancer can be vital to prompt treatment and improve the outcomes for those diagnosed with breast cancer.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that women between the ages of 50 and 74 receive advance screening like mammograms every 2 years, while women ages 40-49 should follow the recommendations of their doctor.

There are certain risk factors that can increase your chance of getting breast cancer. If you have any of these risk factors, talk with your doctor about whether advanced breast cancer screening is recommended.

Family History

You have a family history of breast cancer

Gene Mutation

You are a carrier for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, which is a known genetic risk factor for breast cancer

Family Gene Mutation

You have a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) with BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation


You underwent radiation therapy between the ages of 10 and 30

How do I prepare?

You can prepare for a clinical breast exam by conducting your own self-assessment of your breast tissue, underarm, and clavicle area, feeling carefully for lumps or any tissue that seems changed, thickened, or irregular. It is advisable to do this self-assessment both lying down and standing up as the change in movement will expose different tissue to the touch.

Ask yourself the following questions to help identify irregularities during your self-exam. Make notes to share with your doctor.


Has there been any change in the way your breasts or the breast tissue feels?


Did you feel any lumps, thickened tissue, or puckering?


Are you pregnant or breastfeeding?


Do you have breast implants?


Are you experiencing any breast pain or discomfort?

How is it done?

Your clinical breast exam will be conducted by a trained doctor, who will examine your breast tissue, clavicle (below the breastbone) area, and underarms. You will be asked to undress privately, and change into a gown that opens in the front. Before conducting the exam, you might be questioned about your medical history and any concerns you have.

Clinical breast exams are conducted with you both sitting up and lying down while the doctor applies pressure to the underarms, breasts, and clavicle areas on both sides to detect lumps or abnormalities. The pressure applied should be firm but not painful and your doctor will talk to you about next steps if an abnormality is detected.

When will l know the results?

Feedback about the clinical breast exam should be provided immediately or within a few minutes after the physical exam. If any abnormalities are detected during the physical exam, you may be advised to schedule and undergo additional testing and screening.