How often should I have a clinical breast exam?

Most doctors agree that a woman should have a clinical breast exam once a year. And it’s important to call the doctor’s office right away if you feel a breast change yourself.

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A good clinical breast exam, which is a manual examination of the breasts by a healthcare professional, can help identify cancers relatively early. A clinical breast exam is recommended about every three years for women in their 20s and 30s. Women aged 40 and over should go every year. Clinical breast exams are important because not all breast cancers are found on mammograms. 

The American Cancer Society guidelines for early detection of breast cancer in average risk and asymptomatic woman recommends clinical breast examination every three years for women between 20 and 40 years old, with breast self-examination being optional. For women age 40 and over, it advocates annual mammography and clinical breast examination and optional breast self-examination. When applicable, earlier mammography films should be made available to the radiologist for comparison with new mammography films. There is no specific age at which mammography screening should be discontinued. It seems to be the consensus that, for as long as a woman is in good health and would be a candidate for breast cancer treatment, she should continue to be screened with mammography.

When there are factors or conditions imposing a higher risk for developing breast cancer in a woman’s history, evaluation for an earlier start for screening should be discussed. Additional tests, such as breast MRI, might be indicated.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.