Follow-up after an Abnormal Clinical Breast Exam

For most women, the results of a clinical breast exam (CBE) will be normal.

If your exam does find something abnormal, you will need follow-up tests to check whether or not the finding is breast cancer.

Most abnormal findings are not breast cancer.

For most women, follow-up tests will show normal breast tissue. For other women, follow-up tests will show a benign breast condition. A small number of women will have breast cancer.

It’s important to get follow-up without delay if you have an abnormal CBE. That way, if you have breast cancer, it can be treated as soon as possible.

Follow-up tests

Types of follow-up tests

If your CBE finds something abnormal, the follow-up tests you’ll have depend on the type of finding and your age.

Follow-up most often begins with the least invasive tests, such as a follow-up mammogram (diagnostic mammogram) or breast ultrasound.

In some cases, more tests such as a breast MRI may be recommended.

If you need follow-up tests, a patient navigator at your medical center may help coordinate your care.

When a biopsy is needed

If the finding looks like it might be breast cancer, the next step is a biopsy. A biopsy removes a small amount of tissue in the breast to check for cancer.

If the biopsy shows no cancer, you return to your regular schedule of screening with clinical breast exams and mammograms.

If breast cancer is found, it can be treated. With standard treatment, people with breast cancers found early have a high chance of survival.

If you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, a patient navigator at your medical center may help you coordinate your care.

Learn more about biopsies and breast cancer diagnosis.

Learn about breast cancer treatment.

Follow-up on a breast lump

The most common abnormal finding from a CBE is a lump (also called a palpable mass because it can be felt).

Your health care provider may insert a needle or order a breast ultrasound to check whether the lump is fluid-filled or solid.

If it’s fluid-filled, it’s most likely a cyst. Cysts are a benign breast condition (not cancer) and often don’t need treatment.

If the breast lump is solid, it’s more likely to be breast cancer and often needs more testing.

Women younger than 30

In women under 30, most breast lumps are benign (not cancer).

Follow-up usually begins with a breast ultrasound and possibly a diagnostic mammogram.

For some women, the first step may be observation. This involves re-checking the lump after 1-2 menstrual periods to see if it goes away (often the case).

If you don’t want to wait, talk with your health care provider or get a second opinion.

Some women will need a biopsy to check whether or not the lump is breast cancer.

Learn more about biopsies and breast cancer diagnosis.

Women ages 30 and older

For women 30 and older, follow-up on a breast lump usually begins with a mammogram (diagnostic mammogram) and a breast ultrasound.

Some women will need a biopsy to check whether or not the lump is breast cancer.

Learn more about biopsies and breast cancer diagnosis.

Other abnormal findings

Other abnormal findings during a CBE may include (see pictures):

  • Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
  • Pulling in of the nipple or other parts of the breast
  • Nipple discharge  
  • Pain

As with a lump, these findings need proper follow-up to be sure they aren’t breast cancer.  

 

Susan G. Komen®’s Breast Care Helpline:
1-877 GO KOMEN (1-877-465-6636)
  

Calls to our Breast Care Helpline are answered by a trained and caring staff member Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. ET. Our helpline provides free, professional support services to anyone who has questions or concerns about breast cancer, including people diagnosed with breast cancer and their families.

You can also email the helpline at helpline@komen.org.