When breast cancer is found and treated early, a woman has more treatment options and a better chance for a cure. Screening tests identify signs of breast cancer that might otherwise go unnoticed.
The following screenings are recommended as a routine part of every woman’s health care.
Beginning in their 20s, women should learn about the benefits and limitations of a breast self-exam (BSE). Women should be aware of how their breasts normally look and feel and report any new breast changes to a health professional. Finding a breast change does not necessarily mean there is a cancer.
Your health care provider can show you how to effectively examine your own breasts. When you are familiar with how your breasts normally feel, you are much more likely to identify lumps or other changes that may be symptoms of breast cancer. If you notice any changes, see your health care provider. Usually breast changes are not cancer, but it’s important to find out for sure.
Clinical Breast Examination
This physical exam is performed by a health care provider, such as a doctor or a nurse practitioner, often as a part of a woman’s annual check-up. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that women in their 20s and 30s have a clinical breast exam every three years and that women age 40 or older have a clinical breast exam every year.
A mammogram uses X-rays to produce an image of the breast and to detect abnormalities in the breast that may be too small to see or feel. On average, mammograms detect breast cancer in 80 to 90 percent of women who have the disease, but don’t have any symptoms.
The ACS recommends that women age 40 or older have a screening mammogram every year and do so for as long as they are in good health. Women should continue getting yearly mammograms regardless of their age, as long as they don’t have serious, chronic health problems such as congestive heart failure, end-stage renal disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or moderate to severe dementia. Age alone should not be the reason to stop having regular mammograms.
Women with serious health problems or short life expectancies should discuss with their doctors whether to continue having mammograms.
If you are at higher risk of breast cancer, you may need to be screened earlier and more frequently than other women.
Screening Breast MRI
For women with a 20 percent or greater lifetime risk for breast cancer, ACS recommends having an annual screening breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan in addition to a mammogram. Talk with your health care provider about your risk.
Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) was the first in the region offer digital mammography, a technique that captures X-ray images digitally for a more accurate diagnosis. Many studies show that doctors who specialize in mammography are more accurate at interpreting the images when compared to doctors with less experience. For more information about mammography at SCCA, check out the digital mammography section of our website.