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Abstract

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. Treatment options for earlier-stage cancers are generally more numerous, include less toxic alternatives, and are usually more effective than treatments for later-stage cancers. For average-risk women aged 40 and younger, earlier detection of palpable tumors identified by CBE can lead to earlier therapy. After age 40, when mammography is recommended, CBE is regarded as an adjunct to mammography. Recent debate, however, has questioned the contributions of CBE to the detection of breast cancer in asymptomatic women and particularly to improved survival and reduced mortality rates. Clinicians remain widely divided about the level of evidence supporting CBE and their confidence in the examination. Yet, CBE is practiced extensively in the United States and continues to be recommended by many leading health organizations. It is in this context that this report provides a brief review of evidence for CBE's role in the earlier detection of breast cancer, highlights current practice issues, and presents recommendations that, when implemented, could contribute to greater standardization of the practice and reporting of CBE. These recommendations may also lead to improved evidence of the nature and extent of CBE's contribution to the earlier detection of breast cancer.