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Diagnosing Breast Cancer with Physical Examination

Updated on July 16, 2011

How breast cancer is diagnosed? This has been the most important question that remains in the mind of every woman around the world. Though there are several tests to confirm if a patient has breast cancer or not, but doing self breast examination on a regular basis or undergoing a physical examination by a gynecologist helps in prevention or at least early detection of this disease. Breast cancer is totally curable if treated on time. If the tumor has a tendency to spread to other body parts, the easiest way is to remove complete breast by mastectomy or removal of a diseased part of breast by lumpectomy. After all, life of an individual is more important than appearance and beauty of the body because if there will be life, there will be body. Below is how doctors diagnose breast cancer with physical examination for your education and awareness:

Physical Examination of Breasts

Inspection of breasts is done mostly by a gynecologist whether male or female as comfortable with the patient. With the patient in a seated position, the exam is carried out in different positions:

  • First with arms relaxing on the backside of body.
  • Second with shoulders higher to achieve contraction of the patient's chest.
  • Third with leaning forward. Doctors measure asymmetry, nipple retraction, and skin changes via these positions.

Steps To Perform Physical Examination of Breasts

  1. In the same position, doctors palpate the supra and infraclavicular regions and armpits followed by gentle palpation of breast in this area.
  2. Breast palpation is also performed with the patient supine and the ipsilateral arm extension above the head.
  3. Palpation is done with palmar surfaces of fingers following a radial path from nipple to periphery and exploring for any masses around the perimeter of the breast in a circular path.
  4. Doctors also pay particular attention to the inframammary fold (lowest part of breast) and axillary tail of breast.
  5. Finally, the examiner makes a gentle traction on both nipples.

 Though physical examination of breasts plays an important role in early detection of breast cancer, it has been revealed by several studies that doing self breast examination by females on their own helps in altering the mortality rates. Clinical examination including inspection and palpation of breasts has a specificity of 90%, but then also many cancers may go unnoticed at a ratio between 40% and 70% so it becomes useful to complement mammography for some lesions without calcifications, lesions that are imperceptible to the radiological study, or to detect lesions that occur in the interval between mammograms. Many medical research centers maintain the recommendation for regular clinical examination in addition to mammography at least between 50 and 69 years of age but then also many times it is left as individual choice.


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    • rsusan profile image

      Rika Susan 7 years ago from South Africa

      One can never be too careful. Had a scare last year, but luckily I discovered the lumps early on and they turned out to be only fibrocystic. Much to be grateful for.