Women's Health

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Breast Cancer Screening

Overview

Experts agree that mammograms are the best screening test for people at average risk of breast cancer. But they don't all agree on the age at which screening should start. And they don't agree on whether it's better to be screened every year or every two years.

Here are some of the recommendations from experts:

  • Start by age 40 and have a mammogram each year.
  • Start at age 45 and have a mammogram each year.
  • Start at age 50 and have a mammogram every 2 years.

When to stop having mammograms is another decision. You and your doctor can decide on the right age to start and stop screening based on your personal preferences and overall health.

The screening tests for breast cancer include:

Mammogram.

This is an X-ray of the breast that can often find tumors that are too small for you or your doctor to feel. Most of the ones done today are digital mammograms. They record images of the breast in an electronic file.

3-D mammogram (digital breast tomosynthesis).

This test uses X-rays to create a three-dimensional image of the breast. This test may be used alone or with a digital mammogram.

Clinical breast exam (CBE).

During this test, your doctor will carefully feel your breasts and under your arms to check for lumps or other unusual changes. Talk to your doctor about whether to have this test.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) of the breast.

An MRI may be used as a screening test for women who have a high risk of breast cancer. This includes women who test positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene and/or have a strong family history of breast cancer. An MRI may also be useful for women who have breast implants or whose breast tissue is very dense.

Credits

Current as of: April 29, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Sarah Marshall MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Douglas A. Stewart MD - Medical Oncology