Breast Cancer Screening

Two tests are commonly used by health care providers to screen for breast cancer before any symptoms present themselves: Mammography and Clinical Breast Exam . Screening can be helpful in finding cancers early, with the goal of decreasing the chance of dying from breast cancer. Other screening tests are currently being studied in clinical trials.

A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast, which has the ability to find breast tumors that are too small to feel. A clinical breast exam is an exam of the breast by a health professional, most usually performed at a woman’s annual wellness examination.

If a lump or any unusual finding is found with either one of these 2 screening tests, ultrasound imaging may be used to find out more information.

In women at high inherited risk for breast cancer, MRI may be used to screen for breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Risks

Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant cancer cells form in the tissues of the breast. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death from cancer in American women.

Risk factors for breast cancer include:

  • Older age.
  • Early age at menarche (menstruation).
  • Older age at first birth or never having given birth.
  • A personal history of breast cancer or benign (non-cancer) breast disease.
  • A mother or sister with breast cancer.
  • Treatment with radiation therapy to the breast/chest.
  • Breast tissue that is dense on a mammogram.
  • Taking hormones such as estrogen and progesterone.
  • Obesity.
  • Drinking alcoholic beverages.
  • Being white.

To calculate your specific breast cancer risk, you may use the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool. Talk with your physician about ways to reduce your risk.

What Should I Do If I Find a Breast Lump?

See your physician if you discover any new breast changes. Conditions that should be checked by a doctor include:

  • An area that is distinctly different from any other area on either breast
  • A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm that persists through the menstrual cycle
  • A change in the size, shape, or contour of the breast
  • A mass or lump, which may feel as small as a pea
  • A change in the feel or appearance of the skin on the breast or nipple (dimpled, puckered, scaly, or inflamed)
  • Spontaneous bloody or clear fluid discharge from the nipples
  • Redness of the skin on the breast or nipple