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Why are breast cancer screenings important?

What is breast cancer screening?

Breast cancer occurs when cells that are not normal grow in one or both of your breasts. Screening tests can help find breast cancer early. Cancer is easier to treat when it’s found early. Having concerns about breast cancer is common. That’s why it’s important to talk with your doctor about when to start and how often to get screened for breast cancer.

Who should be screened for breast cancer?

Talk with your doctor about when you should start being tested and what test to get. If you have an average risk for breast cancer, you can use the guidelines that follow. If you have a higher risk, such as having a family history of breast cancer in multiple relatives or at a young age, your doctor may recommend different screening for you.

  • Ages 25 to 39: Some experts recommend having a clinical breast exam every 1 to 3 years, starting at age 25. Ask your doctor how often you should have this test. If you have a high risk for breast cancer, talk with your doctor about the best schedule and tests for you.
  • Ages 40 and older: Talk with your doctor about how often you should have mammograms and clinical breast exams.

How is breast cancer screening done?

Several screening tests can be used to check for breast cancer.

  • Mammograms: These tests check for signs of cancer using X-rays. They can show tumors that are too small for you or your doctor to feel. During a mammogram, a machine squeezes your breasts to make them flatter and easier to X-ray. At least two pictures are taken of each breast. One is taken from the top and one from the side.
  • 3-D Mammograms: These tests are also called digital breast tomosynthesis. Your breast is positioned on a flat plate. A top plate is pressed against your breast to keep it in position. The X-ray arm then moves in an arc above the breast and takes many pictures. A computer uses these X-rays to create a three-dimensional image.
  • Clinical Breast Exam: In this exam, your doctor carefully feels your breasts and under your arms to check for lumps or other changes.

Why is a mammogram done?

A mammogram is done to:

  • Look for breast cancer when there are no symptoms.
  • Find breast cancer when there are symptoms. Symptoms of breast cancer may include a lump or thickening in the breast, nipple discharge, or dimpling of the skin on one area of the breast.
  • Find an area of suspicious breast tissue to remove for an exam under a microscope (biopsy).

What is your risk for breast cancer?

If you don’t already know your risk of breast cancer, you can ask your doctor about it. If your doctor says that you have a high or very high risk, ask about ways to reduce your risk. These could include getting extra screening, taking medicine, or having surgery. If you have a strong family history of breast cancer, ask your doctor about genetic testing.

© 2016-2021 Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.

Breast Care Clinics

If you have concerns about your breast health or have a family history of breast cancer, you may be interested attending a MaineHealth breast care clinic. Breast care clinics offer the full range of breast health care, including cancer detection, imaging, consultation and treatment.

Breast Cancer Screening

Keeping up with preventive care is one of the most effective ways to keep you on the right side of health. And, mammograms are the best tool for early breast cancer detection and treatment.