Skip to main navigation Skip to main content Skip to footer For Medicare For Providers For Brokers For Employers Español For Individuals & Families: For Individuals & Families Medical Dental Other Supplemental Explore coverage through work How to Buy Health Insurance Types of Dental Insurance Open Enrollment vs. Special Enrollment See all topics Shop for Medicare plans Member Guide Find a Doctor Log in to myCigna
Home Knowledge Center Wellness Library Breast Exam

Breast Exam

Test Overview

A clinical breast examination (CBE) is a physical examination of the breast done by a health professional. Clinical breast examinations are used along with mammograms to check women for breast cancer. Clinical breast examinations are also used to check for other breast problems.

A clinical breast examination may be part of your regular checkup. Talk with your health professional about how often you need a breast examination.

Women with breast implants should also have regular clinical breast examinations.

Why It Is Done

Why It Is Done

A clinical breast examination is done to:

  • Find a lump or change in the breast that may mean a serious problem is present, such as breast cancer.
  • Check other breast problems that may need more treatment, such as mastitis or a fibroadenoma.
How To Prepare

How To Prepare

Tell your health professional if you:

  • Have a new lump or change in your breasts. This includes a change in the way your nipples look or if you have any nipple discharge.
  • Some people have nipples that sink into the breast, called inverted nipples. For these people, this is normal. But if you don't usually have inverted nipples and then notice a change where your nipple becomes inverted, tell your doctor.
  • Have a personal or family history of breast cancer.

You may want to have your examination 1 to 2 weeks after your menstrual period ends, if you are still menstruating. Your breasts are less likely to be tender at that time.

How It Is Done

How It Is Done

A clinical breast examination is done by a health professional. You will need to take off your clothes above the waist. You will be given a gown to wear during the examination.

First, your health professional will ask you questions about any problems you may have, your medical history, and your risk factors for breast cancer. Talk to your health professional about any areas of your breasts you may be concerned about.

Your health professional will then examine each breast, underarm, and collarbone area for changes in breast size, skin changes, or signs of injury or infection, such as bruising or redness. You may be asked to lift your arms over your head, put your hands on your hips, or lean forward and press your hands together to tighten the muscle beneath each breast during this part of the examination. You may also lie flat on the table and put your arm behind your head while your health professional checks your breast tissue.

Your health professional will feel (palpate) each breast for any unusual or painful areas or for a dominant lump. A dominant lump in the breast is any lump that is new, larger, harder, or different in any other way from other lumps or the rest of the breast tissue.

Your health professional will gently press on the breast tissue from about 1 in. (2.5 cm) below the breast up to the collarbone. He or she also will examine your armpit (axillary area) and your neck for swollen glands (lymph nodes). Your health professional will likely press gently on your nipple to check for any discharge.

After the examination, your health professional may teach you how to examine your own breasts (breast self-examination) and help you practice doing it.

How It Feels

How It Feels

A clinical breast examination normally does not cause any discomfort unless your breasts are tender.

Risks

Risks

There are no known risks from having this test.

Results

Results

Findings of a clinical breast examination may include the following.

Clinical breast examination

Normal:

The nipples, breast tissue, and areas around the breast look normal and are normal in size and shape. One breast may be slightly larger than the other.

A small area of firm tissue may be present in the lower curve of the breast below the nipple.

Tenderness or lumpiness that occurs in both breasts is normal for many women. Many women have the same lumpiness or thickening in both breasts during the menstrual cycle.

A clear or milky discharge (galactorrhea) may be present when the nipple is squeezed. This may be caused by nursing, breast stimulation, hormones, or some other normal cause.

One breast may have more glandular tissue (lumps) than the other one, especially in the upper outer quadrant of the breast.

Abnormal:

A firm lump or area of thickening may be present in one of your breasts.

Changes in the color or feel of your breast or nipple may be present. This can include wrinkling, dimpling, thickening, or puckering or an area that feels grainy, stringy, or thickened.

A nipple may sink into the breast. A red, scaly rash or sore may be found on the nipple.

Redness or warmth over a painful lump or over an entire breast may be present. This may be caused by an infection (abscess or mastitis) or cancer.

A bloody or milky discharge (galactorrhea) may occur without stimulation (spontaneous nipple discharge).

A normal clinical breast examination does not mean that breast cancer is not present. Depending on your age and your personal and family history of breast cancer, your health professional may do other tests, such as a mammogram.

If a breast problem is found, the next step depends on the problem.

  • Cyclic breast pain, fibrocystic changes, or cysts may just be rechecked to see if they change or go away on their own. Cysts may also be checked by ultrasound or drained with a needle (aspirated) to make sure they are cysts and to help relieve pain.
  • A mammogram, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or ultrasound may be needed if a lump is found. Breast tissue may be taken out with a needle (needle aspiration or core biopsy) or through a small cut (biopsy) to be looked at under the microscope.
  • Nipple discharge, especially if it is spontaneous or bloody, may be looked at under a microscope for unusual cells.

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.

© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

Related Links

Breast Self-Examination Medical Tests: Questions to Ask the Doctor

<cipublic-spinner variant="large"><span>Loading…</span></cipublic-spinner>

Page Footer

I want to...

Get an ID card File a claim View my claims and EOBs Check coverage under my plan See prescription drug list Find an in-network doctor, dentist, or facility Find a form Find 1095-B tax form information View the Cigna Glossary Contact Cigna

Audiences

Individuals and Families Medicare Employers Brokers Providers

Secure Member Sites

myCigna member portal Health Care Provider portal Cigna for Employers Client Resource Portal Cigna for Brokers

Cigna Company Information

About Cigna Company Profile Careers Newsroom Investors Suppliers Third Party Administrators International Evernorth

 Cigna. All rights reserved.

Privacy Legal Product Disclosures Cigna Company Names Customer Rights Accessibility Non-Discrimination Notice [PDF] Language Assistance [PDF] Report Fraud Sitemap

Disclaimer

Individual and family medical and dental insurance plans are insured by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company (CHLIC), Cigna HealthCare of Arizona, Inc., Cigna HealthCare of Illinois, Inc., and Cigna HealthCare of North Carolina, Inc. Group health insurance and health benefit plans are insured or administered by CHLIC, Connecticut General Life Insurance Company (CGLIC), or their affiliates (see a listing of the legal entities  that insure or administer group HMO, dental HMO, and other products or services in your state). Accidental Injury, Critical Illness, and Hospital Care plans or insurance policies are distributed exclusively by or through operating subsidiaries of Cigna Corporation, are administered by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company, and are insured by either (i) Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company (Bloomfield, CT); (ii) Life Insurance Company of North America (“LINA”) (Philadelphia, PA); or (iii) New York Life Group Insurance Company of NY (“NYLGICNY”) (New York, NY), formerly known as Cigna Life Insurance Company of New York. The Cigna name, logo, and other Cigna marks are owned by Cigna Intellectual Property, Inc. LINA and NYLGICNY are not affiliates of Cigna.

All insurance policies and group benefit plans contain exclusions and limitations. For availability, costs and complete details of coverage, contact a licensed agent or Cigna sales representative. This website is not intended for residents of New Mexico.

Selecting these links will take you away from Cigna.com to another website, which may be a non-Cigna website. Cigna may not control the content or links of non-Cigna websites. Details