Performance and reporting of clinical breast examination: a review of the literature

CA Cancer J Clin. Nov-Dec 2004;54(6):345-61. doi: 10.3322/canjclin.54.6.345.


Clinical breast examination (CBE) seeks to detect breast abnormalities or evaluate patient reports of symptoms to find palpable breast cancers at an earlier stage of progression, when treatment is more effective and treatment options are greater than for later stage disease. Evidence suggests that, for some women, CBE can be an important complement to mammography in the earlier detection of breast cancer; CBE identifies some cancers missed by mammography and provides an important screening tool among women for whom mammography is not recommended or women who do not receive high-quality screening mammography according to recommended guidelines. But CBE performance and reporting approaches are inconsistent. Health care providers indicate that they are not confident in their CBE skills and would welcome training. Studies demonstrate that training can enhance CBE performance, measured in terms of execution of CBE components and accuracy. This literature review provides evidence to the extent that it is available, to support the specific recommendations of Saslow, et al. for optimizing CBE performance and reporting and to guide further research on CBE performance characteristics, reporting systems, barriers to high-quality CBE performance, and training.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Breast Neoplasms / mortality
  • Breast Self-Examination / methods*
  • Breast Self-Examination / standards*
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Education, Medical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mammography
  • Palpation
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Survival Analysis