How is screening for breast cancer done?
- Breast self-awareness: In the past, a breast self-exam was recommended. The exam was a precise method of examining your breasts, about once a month. Most medical organizations now advise breast self-awareness instead. This means having a sense of what is normal for your breasts so that you can notice even small changes and report them to a healthcare provider right away.
- Clinical breast exam (CBE): The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) advises CBEs every 1 to 3 years for all women in their 20s and 30s. ACOG advises CBEs every year for women 40 and older. Women should talk with their doctor about their risk factors and make a decision about whether to have a CBE.
- Mammography: A mammogram is a kind of X-ray used to help find breast tumors before symptoms of cancer appear. During the test, your breast is placed between 2 metal or plastic plates that flatten and spread the tissue. Very low levels of radiation are used to take a picture of the inside of your breast. The test can be uncomfortable, but it only lasts a few moments.
- Breast MRI: An MRI uses magnets, radio waves, and a computer to make detailed pictures of the inside of the breast. Before the MRI, you may be injected with a contrast dye. This helps to better outline the breast tissue and possible tumors. MRI is only used to screen women who are at a high risk for breast cancer.
These screening methods can improve your chances of detecting cancer early! Women at high risk for breast cancer may be advised to start breast cancer screening at a younger age, and have an MRI in addition to a mammogram. For some women with dense breast tissue, ultrasound may be done in addition to a mammogram.
More about mammograms
The benefits and limits of a mammogram vary. They’re based on factors such as age and personal risk. Experts have different advice for who should have mammograms. All women should talk with their doctor about their personal risk factors before making a decision about when to start and how often to get a mammogram.
If you have questions about breast cancer or how to protect yourself against it, talk with your COPC healthcare provider. Your primary care physician can help you understand more about this cancer.