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Breast cancer screenings 101


Breast cancer is the second deadliest cancer in women. But early detection is key! In fact, there is a 98 percent survival rate when detected early.

Breast cancer screenings are important for all women because they can help detect breast cancer early. And they can have a big impact, since one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.

Types of breast cancer screenings

Screenings are tests used to find a condition in a person without symptoms.

A mammogram is an x-ray used to detect and evaluate changes in the breast. A mammogram is considered the best screening tool; it’s the main test recommended by the American Cancer Society to find breast cancer.

A clinical breast exam is an examination by the doctor or nurse who uses his or her hands to feel for lumps or other changes in the breast.

A breast self-exam is when you check your own breasts for lumps, changes in size or shape of the breast, or any other changes in the breast or underarm area. The American Cancer Society has a step-by-step guide and instructions on how to perform an exam.

When to screen

Breast cancer screening recommendations and guidelines vary by risk and by age.

A breast self-exam is an option for women to start in their 20s. By performing a regular breast self-exam, you will be able to know how your breasts look and feel, making it easier to identify any changes that may develop.

A clinical breast exam is recommended for women in their 20s and 30s, and can be included in their regular visit to a health care provider. The American Cancer Society recommends having a clinical breast exam performed at every three years. This kind of exam can help give women proper instruction on breast self-exams and early detection.

Annual mammograms should start at the age of 40 and recur each year, unless otherwise recommended by your doctor.

Women who are at high risk may be recommended to start mammograms earlier than 40 years of age or have additional screenings, such as an MRI. These women may have:

  • A lifetime risk factor of 20 to 25 percent or greater.
  • A known BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation.
  • A first-degree relative (parent or sibiling) with the gene mutation or history of breast cancer.
  • Received radiation treatment to the chest area between the ages of 10 and 30.
  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Cowden syndrome, or Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome, or have first-degree relatives with one of these syndromes.

Finding breast cancer early can improve the chances of treatment options, successful treatments, less extensive surgery, and better health outcomes.