Utility of Clinical Breast Exams in Detecting Local-Regional Breast Events after Breast-Conservation in Women with a Personal History of High-risk Breast Cancer

INTRODUCTION: Although breast cancer follow-up guidelines emphasize the importance of clinical exams, prior studies suggest a small fraction of local-regional events occurring after breast conservation are detected by exam alone. Our objective was to examine how local-regional events are detected in a contemporary, national cohort of high-risk breast cancer survivors. METHODS: A stage-stratified sample of stage II/III breast cancer patients diagnosed in 2006-2007 (n=11,099) were identified from 1,217 facilities within the National Cancer Data Base. Additional data on local-regional and distant breast events, method of event detection, imaging received, and mortality was collected. We further limited the cohort to patients with breast conservation (n=4,854). Summary statistics describe local-regional event rates and detection method. RESULTS: Local-regional events were detected in 5.5% (n=265). 83% were ipsilateral or contralateral in-breast events, and 17% within ipsilateral lymph nodes. 48% of local-regional events were detected on asymptomatic breast imaging, 29% by patients, and 10% on clinical exam. Overall, 0.5% of the 4,854 patients had a local-regional event detected on exam. Exams detected a higher proportion of lymph node (8/45) compared to in-breast events (18/220). No factors were associated with method of event detection. DISCUSSION: Clinical exams, as an adjunct to screening mammography, have a modest effect on local-regional event detection. This contradicts current belief that exams are a critical adjunct to mammographic screening. These findings can help to streamline follow-up care, potentially improving follow-up efficiency and quality.