Breast Cancer Screenings: Which One is Right for You?

Although breast cancer screening cannot prevent breast cancer, it can help find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat. Breast cancer screening means checking a woman’s breasts for cancer before there are signs or symptoms of the disease. All women need to be informed by their health care provider about the best screening options for them. Talk to your doctor about which breast cancer screening tests are right for you, and when you should have them.

The most common breast cancer screenings include: 

  • Mammogram - A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray used to detect abnormalities in the breast that could indicate cancer. Today, most mammograms are performed digitally, rather than using film images. Mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat and before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms. Having regular mammograms can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer. Currently, a mammogram is the best way to find breast cancer for most women.

  • Breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - A breast MRI uses magnets and radio waves to take pictures of the breast. MRI is used along with mammograms to screen women who are at high risk for getting breast cancer. Because breast MRIs may appear abnormal even when there is no cancer, they are not used for women at average risk.

  • Clinical Breast Exam - A clinical breast exam is an examination by a doctor or nurse, who uses his or her hands to feel for lumps or other changes.

  • Breast Self-Awareness - Being familiar with how your breasts look and feel can help you notice symptoms such as lumps, pain, or changes in size that may be of concern. These could include changes found during a breast self-exam. You should report any changes that you notice to your doctor or health care provider.

*Having a clinical breast exam or doing a breast self-exam has not been found to lower the risk of dying from breast cancer.

The United States Preventive Services Task Force, an organization made up of doctors and disease experts who look at research on the best way to prevent diseases and make recommendations on how doctors can help patients avoid diseases or find them early, recommends that women who are 50 to 74 years old and are at average risk for breast cancer get a mammogram every two years. 

Women who are 40 to 49 years old should talk to their doctor or other health care professional about when to start and how often to get a mammogram. Women should weigh the benefits and risks of screening tests when deciding whether to begin getting mammograms before age 50.

Talk to any of our doctors about what breast cancer screenings might be appropriate for you and when you should begin having these screenings at your next appointment. Don’t put it off because early detection can save literally save your life.