A breast physical exam is a careful manual examination of the breasts by a doctor or other health professional. This exam can help find lumps that women may miss with their own self-exams.
While it's true that most lumps are found by women themselves, the abnormality in a breast can be so difficult to feel that only someone with experience would recognize it. Lumps, thickening, asymmetry (a difference in appearance between the two breasts) — changes in your breasts that you may not notice or think are “normal” — may be detected by a health professional who examines many breasts regularly. About 20% of the time, breast cancers are found only by physical exam and not seen on a mammogram.
The American Cancer Society recommends that women in their 20s and 30s have a physical breast exam as part of a periodic (regular) health exam by a health professional, preferably every 3 years. After age 40, women should have a breast exam by a health professional every year.
During and after treatment
If you are being treated for breast cancer, your doctor will likely recommend that you come in for a breast physical exam every 3 to 4 months. Regularly scheduled physical exams will continue after you finish treatment, gradually decreasing in frequency to once a year. Work with your doctor to figure out what is best for your situation.