Part Three: Clinical Breast Exam
What’s The Difference Between a Self-Exam and a Clinical Breast Exam?
A clinical breast exam is performed by a healthcare professional at your annual exam, whereas your self-breast exam is something you should do at home monthly.
A Visual Check Of Skin And Tissue
During a clinical breast exam, your healthcare provider will check your breasts’ appearance. They may ask you to do pertain postures like raise your arms over your head, let your arms hang by your sides, or press your hands against your hips. This allows your doctor to look for variations in each of your breasts. The skin covering your breasts is checked for abnormal signs like rash or dimpling. They may squeeze your nipples lightly to see if any fluid is expressed.
A Manual Check
Your healthcare provider will check your entire breast, and the surrounding areas, for any abnormalities. It is worth noting that some women have fibrocystic breasts where their breast tissue appears to be full of tiny fibrous bumps or ridges. Overall lumpy tissue is something your provider will want to take note of but is unrelated to cancer.
The manual exam is done on each breast individually. Your healthcare provider will look for suspicious lumps, about the size of a pea, and then check the lymph nodes near the breast to see if they are enlarged.
An Assessment of Any Suspicious Area
If your health care provider discovers a suspicious lump, they will note its size, shape, texture and if it moves easily. Benign lumps often feel and behave differently from cancerous ones, but any lump found will likely need to be examined further before diagnosis.
It may be reassuring to know that lumps that appear soft, smooth, round, and movable are typically either benign tumors or cysts. A lump that is hard and oddly-shaped and feels firmly attached within the breast is more likely to be cancer, but please refrain from any form of self-diagnosis. If you’re concerned about any abnormality, please call your doctor before you jump to conclusions.
The Value of Clinical Breast Exams
Clinical Breast exams are an important part of early detection but most lumps are discovered through self-breast exams. On the other hand, an experienced medical professional may notice a suspicious abnormality that the patient fails to notice. This is why it’s important to perform your month self-breast exam, get a yearly wellness checkup and report any abnormalities to your doctor. These three steps are fundamental to the early detection of breast cancer.
If I have some symptoms, should I be concerned that I have cancer?
More often than not, these symptoms are caused by something much less severe, but any abnormality should be examined as soon as it is noticed. If you have any of these aforementioned symptoms, you should notify your healthcare provider so that you can be diagnosed and treated.
If I have no symptoms, does that mean I don’t have cancer?
Although there’s no need to stress, regular screenings are crucial because a lot of patients with breast cancer don’t have or don’t notice many of their symptoms at first. Your doctor can monitor you for breast cancer way before you have any perceptible symptoms. During your appointment, your health care provider will ask about medical history and perform a physical examination. Additionally, your doctor may order specific tests, such as a mammogram.