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Breast Cancer Screening

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Breast Cancer Screening

Overview

Mammograms are the best screening test for people at average risk of breast cancer. But experts 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:footnote 1, footnote 2, footnote 3, footnote 4

  • Start at age 40 and have a mammogram every 1 or 2 years.
  • Start at age 45 and have a mammogram each year.
  • Start at age 50 and have a mammogram every 1 or 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.

Screening tests

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.

3D mammogram (digital breast tomosynthesis).

This test uses X-rays to create a three-dimensional image of the breast. A 3D mammogram may be used alone or with a digital mammogram. As a newer test, 3D mammograms may not be covered by insurance.

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.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) of the breast.

A standard MRI may be used as a screening test if you have a high risk of breast cancer. This includes testing positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene and/or having a strong family history of breast cancer.

Abbreviated breast MRI.

An abbreviated breast MRI is a newer test that takes less time than a standard breast MRI. (You might hear it called a "fast MRI.") This test is something your breast cancer screening center may offer. As a newer test, an abbreviated breast MRI may not be covered by insurance.

References

Citations

  1. Siu AL, U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (2016). Screening for breast cancer: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. Annals of Internal Medicine, published online January 12, 2016. DOI: 10.7326/M15-2886. Accessed January 12, 2016.
  2. Oeffinger KC, et al. (2015). Breast cancer screening for women at average risk 2015 guideline update from the American Cancer Society. JAMA, 314(15): 1599–1614. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2015.12783. Accessed January 21, 2016.
  3. National Comprehensive Cancer Network (2023). Breast cancer screening and diagnosis. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology, version 1.2023—June 19, 2023. Accessed July 25, 2023.
  4. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2017, reaffirmed 2022). Practice Bulletin number 179: Breast cancer risk assessment and screening in average-risk women. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 130(1): e1–e16. DOI: 10.1097/AOG.0000000000002158. Accessed June 28, 2023.

Credits

Current as of: February 28, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

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