Screening & Early

Breast Cancer Screening & Early Detection

Breast cancer screening and early detection play an important role in your health. Screening tests can help detect breast cancer at an early stage when the chances of survival are highest.

Whether you’re ready to get your first screening mammogram or want to know more about follow-up tests after an abnormal finding, learning about breast cancer screening tests and the importance of early breast cancer detection can help you take charge of your health.

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Learn About Breast Cancer Screening

The most common tests to detect breast cancer are screening mammograms and clinical breast exams. Screening tests are used to find breast cancer in a person without warning signs or symptoms

What is a screening mammogram?
A screening mammogram is a test that uses X-rays to create images of the breast. It’s the most effective screening test used today to find breast cancer in most women. Screening mammograms can find breast cancer early, sometimes up to 10 years before it could be detected by you or your doctor.

When does Komen recommend getting a breast cancer screening test?

Women at average risk

  • Talk with a doctor about which screening tests are right for you. 
  • Have a mammogram every year starting at age 40 if you’re at average risk.
  • Have a clinical breast exam at least every three years starting at age 20, and every year starting at age 40.

Women at higher risk

  • If you’re at higher risk of breast cancer, talk with your doctor about which screening tests are right for you and when to begin screening. You may need to be screened earlier and more often than women at average risk.

Men at higher risk

Transgender people

  • If you’re transgender, breast cancer screening recommendations are personalized and vary by age, sex assigned at birth, personal risk of breast cancer and other factors.

What should you expect on the day of your screening mammogram?
A screening mammogram takes about 15 minutes. Wear a shirt you can remove easily. Avoid using deodorant, perfume, powder or lotion under your arms or on your breasts. These products can show up on a mammogram and make it hard to read.

Are screening mammograms painful? 
You may feel some pressure, but getting a mammogram shouldn’t hurt. Tell the technologist if you have any concerns or if you feel discomfort during the test.

When should you expect the results of your screening mammogram? 
You should get the results of your screening mammogram from the imaging center or your doctor within two weeks. If you don’t, call your doctor.

What are the possible findings on a mammogram?
A screening mammogram may show:

  • No signs of breast cancer.
  • A benign (not cancerous) condition.
  • If you have dense breasts.
  • An abnormal finding, such as calcifications, that needs follow-up tests to rule out cancer.

Learn More About Follow-up Tests

For most women, the results of a mammogram will be good news. The mammogram will show no sign of breast cancer. If your mammogram does show something abnormal, you will need follow-up tests to check whether or not the finding is breast cancer. Sometimes, breast cancer can be ruled out with a follow-up diagnostic mammogram, breast ultrasound or breast MRI.

Diagnostic mammogram
A diagnostic mammogram is like a screening mammogram, but more images of the breast are taken to examine the abnormal findings more closely. You may get the results from your diagnostic mammogram on the same day. 

Breast ultrasound
A breast ultrasound uses sound waves to make images of the breast. It’s often used as a follow-up test after an abnormal finding on a mammogram or clinical breast exam. It can show the difference between a liquid-filled cyst and a solid mass. 

Breast MRI
A breast MRI uses magnetic fields to create an image of the breast. In some cases, your doctor may recommend a breast MRI as a follow-up test if other tests can’t rule out breast cancer. 

If follow-up tests cannot rule out breast cancer, a biopsy is done. A biopsy removes cells or tissue to check for cancer. A biopsy is the only test that can diagnose and confirm breast cancer. 

Susan G. Komen® Support Resources

It may be helpful to download and print Susan G. Komen‘s Questions to Ask Your Doctor about Screening Mammograms resource. You can write on it at your next doctor’s appointment. 

For more information, download Komen’s Breast Cancer Screening & Follow-Up Tests and Mammography resources.

Do you need more information about breast cancer screening or low-cost programs in your area? We’re here for you. The Komen Patient Care Center is your trusted, go-to source for timely, accurate breast health and breast cancer information, services and resources. Our navigators offer free, personalized support for you and your loved ones including education, emotional support, financial assistance, help accessing care and more.

Get connected to a Komen navigator by contacting the Breast Care Helpline at 1-877 GO KOMEN (1-877-465-6636) or email helpline@komen.org to get started. All calls are answered Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m to 7 p.m. ET and Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET. Se habla español.

If you can’t afford a mammogram, it is important to know that the Affordable Care Act requires all health insurance plans to cover the cost of screening mammograms every 1-2 years for women 40 and older. This includes Medicare and Medicaid.

Susan G. Komen Breast Self-Awareness Messages

1. Know your risk 

2. Get screened 

  • Talk with a health care provider about which screening tests are right for you if you’re at higher risk.   
  • Have a mammogram every year starting at age 40 if you’re at average risk.* 
  • Have a clinical breast exam at least every 3 years starting at age 25, and every year starting at age 40.*

*Per NCCN Guidelines

3. Know what is normal for you

See a doctor if you notice any of these breast changes:

  • Lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area 
  • Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast 
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast 
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin 
  • Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple 
  • Pulling in of the nipple or other parts of the breast 
  • Nipple discharge that starts suddenly 
  • New pain in one spot that doesn’t go away 

To see illustrations of these warnings signs, please visit the breast cancer Warning Signs & Symptoms page.

 4. Make healthy lifestyle choices