In this paper, we analyze the physical basis for elasticity imaging of the breast by measuring breast skin stress patterns that result from a force sensor array pressed against the breast tissue. Temporal and spatial changes in the stress pattern allow detection of internal structures with different elastic properties and assessment of geometrical and mechanical parameters of these structures. The method entitled mechanical imaging is implemented in the breast mechanical imager (BMI), a compact device consisting of a hand held probe equipped with a pressure sensor array, a compact electronic unit, and a touchscreen laptop computer. Data acquired by the BMI allows calculation of size, shape, consistency/hardness, and mobility of detected lesions. The BMI prototype has been validated in laboratory experiments on tissue models and in an ongoing clinical study. The obtained results prove that the BMI has potential to become a screening and diagnostic tool that could largely supplant clinical breast examination through its higher sensitivity, quantitative record storage, ease-of-use, and inherent low cost.