Your yearly checkup should include a clinical breast exam. This exam may be done by a gynecologist, family doctor, nurse practitioner, or specially trained nurse. Yearly breast exams help to ensure that breast conditions are found early.
Your Healthcare Provider's Role
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-exam (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 affects the way you should examine your breasts.
If a clinical exam reveals a breast change, you may have other tests to find out more. These tests may include:
- Mammography, low-dose x-rays used to create pictures of the breast.
- Ultrasound, using sound waves to create a picture of the breast.
- Biopsy, 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
Starting at age 20, you should have a clinical breast exam every 1 to 3 years. After age 40, have a clinical breast exam each year. If you're at higher risk for breast cancer, you may need more frequent exams. Risk factors for breast cancer may include:
- Being over 50 or postmenopausal
- A family history of breast cancer
- Having had no pregnancies or a first pregnancy after age 30
- Heavy alcohol use