Young women with dense breasts may have trouble checking their own.

Young women with dense breasts may have trouble checking their own.(ENDO STOCK/FOTOLIA)A clinical breast exam (CBE) is a hands-on examination of both breasts that every ob-gyn or family doctor should provide during a woman's annual visit for a pelvic exam and Pap smear. The American Cancer Society recommends that women in their 20s and 30s have a CBE every three years; women 40 and older need one every year.

This can be especially useful for young women with dense breasts, says Janet Wolter, MD, a medical oncologist and the Brian Piccolo chair of Breast Cancer Research at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, because their home breast self-exams (BSEs) are trickier to interpret. "Older women have soft, easy-to-examine breasts. Once you're menopausal, a lot of glandular tissue is replaced with fat and it's easier to feel."

More about breast screening

Here's what a CBE involves: Your doctor presses his or her fingers around each breast and into your armpits, checking for lumps as well as rashes, dimpling, or other abnormal skin changes. The doctor may gently squeeze each nipple to check for discharge.

No matter what your age, be sure to mention any changes you've noticed in your breasts to your physician during your visit, or call to discuss changes if you're in between appointments.