Clinical examination is a simple method to detect breast lumps and their nature as it is inexpensive and non-invasive and if found to be accurate, might be of great value as a diagnostic tool. The aim of this study was to evaluate the accuracy of clinical examination and its contribution towards the diagnosis of a palpable breast lump. The study was record based and conducted at a University Medical College Hospital and a tertiary referral centre of South India. Patient files of those women who presented with a breast lump between January to December 2011 were studied. A total of 120 patients were obtained following necessary exclusions. The accuracy of clinical assessment at an outpatient facility was determined by comparing the physician's diagnosis with the final histopathological diagnosis. The inter-observer agreement (kappa) for diagnosing a breast lump was 81 % (95 % Confidence Interval = 71 % to 92 %) indicating a good agreement between clinical and pathological diagnoses. McNemar test also indicated a high degree of concordance between the two diagnoses (4. 17 % discordance). Sensitivity, specificity, positive and negative predictive values of clinical breast examination in comparison to histopathology were 95, 88, 87, and 95 % respectively, with an overall accuracy of 90. 8 %. 11 lumps were wrongly diagnosed at the time of clinical examination. Clinical examination of breast lumps was found to have a high sensitivity (94. 5 %) and specificity (87. 7 %) and can be used as the diagnostic tool to identify the nature of the lump, however, its value in diagnosing breast malignancy remains contributory due to the possibility that malignant lumps could be overlooked and present as advanced cancer at a later stage. Histopathology is recommended in all cases unless clinical examination is supported with strong evidence of benignity based on repeated breast imaging via ultrasound or mammogram (>35 yrs).
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