OBGYN Skills Lab
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OBGYN-101 OBGYN Skills Lab OBGYN-101 Gray Haired Notes Morning Rounds Military OB-GYN Global Library of Women's Health Nursing 411

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Clinical Breast Exam Video Using the Vertical Strip Method

There are several good techniques used to evaluate the breast. This video illustrates one of these methods, using the Vertical Strip Technique.

Start with a visual examination of the breasts. Localized redness of the skin, or erythema, may indicate infection, injury or malignancy. This nursing patient has mastitis.

  • Skin changes resembling an orange peel are called "Peau d'Orange" and may signify an underlying malignancy.
  • Red crusting of the nipple can be seen with infection, trauma or malignancy. This is a case of Paget's disease.
  • Dimpling or retraction of the breast can be a sign of malignancy. The same is true with changes in contour. Sometimes these changes are best appreciated by watching the breasts as the patient raises her arms over her head. An alternative method is to have the patient squeeze her hips, flexing her pectoralis major muscles. As she flexes, observe each breast for any of these changes.
  • Most breasts are slightly asymmetrical. This patient's left breast is considerably larger than her right.
  • Nipple papillae are normally everted like this. Inverted nipples have a different appearance.
  • This lactating patient has a nipple laceration. Seven months later it is completely healed.
  • Accessory nipples or accessory breasts may be seen anywhere along the milk line, from the axilla to the groin.
  • Montgomery glands within the areola are a normal finding.

Lymph nodes are located just above and just below the clavicle. With the patient sitting up, feel for these lymph nodes. Normal lymph nodes in this area will not be palpable. Palpable lymph nodes in this area suggest underlying infection, injury or malignancy. With her arm raised, palpate for axillary lymph nodes. These may be located in several areas within the axillary folds. Repeat your exam on the opposite side.

Examine the breast tissue within the area enclosed by the mid-axillary line, the inframammary ridge, the sternal border, the clavicle, and back to the axilla. Use this portion of the first three fingers.

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Breast masses may have well-delineated borders, or the borders may be less distinct. This breast mass, at surgery, was found to be a hemartoma.

While pressing in gently, move your hand in a small circular motion. Start in the axilla and work your way down in the mid-axillary line. Move your hand medially and start working your way back up. This vertical strip technique allows you to systematically cover the entire chest wall. Continue using this overlapping circular pattern. Keep following the pattern of the vertical strips until the entire chest wall has been covered.

To detect abnormalities at all levels of the breast, you may need to apply light, moderate or deep pressure. Frequently, you will need to adapt your technique to differences in breast size, consistency, sensitivity, and other factors such as implants.

Repeat the exam on the opposite side. Remember to have the patient raise her arms. Use the balls of the first three fingers. Make overlapping small circles with your fingers. Start in the mid-axillary line and follow the vertical strip pattern to the sternum. 

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This information is provided by The Brookside Associates,  a private organization, not affiliated with any governmental agency. The opinions presented here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Brookside Associates. For educational simplicity, only one method is usually shown, but many alternative methods may give satisfactory or superior results.

This information is provided solely for educational purposes. The practice of medicine and surgery is regulated by statute and restricted to licensed professionals and those in training under supervision. Performing these procedures outside of that setting is a bad idea, is not recommended, and may be illegal.

The presence of any advertising on these pages does not constitute an endorsement of that product or service by the Brookside Associates.

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