Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines

Since so many types of cancers are now curable when found at early stages, having regular physical exams and screening tests is critical. Here’s what you need to know about breast cancer screening.

Keep in mind that screening guidelines are for healthy adults. People with risk factors, such as a family history of cancer or ongoing exposure to potential carcinogens, may need to be tested more frequently.

Breast Self-Examination

What it is. Using your fingers, check for lumps, swellings, nipple discharge, skin irritation or dimpling, and other irregularities, and do a visual check of your breasts in the mirror. If you notice anything unusual, consult your doctor as soon as possible for evaluation.

How often. Begin practicing breast self-examination every month by the age of 20 and continue it throughout your life, even during pregnancy and after menopause.

Why it’s important. By examining your breasts regularly, you’ll become familiar with what your breast tissue normally feels like. This may help you detect any abnormality at a very early stage.

Points to remember. Perform this five-minute test during the week after menstruation, so that breasts aren’t swollen or tender. Postmenopausal women should choose a date that’s easy to remember each month.

Clinical Breast Examination

What it is. A physician or other trained health-care professional performs a physical breast exam that is very similar to the procedures used for breast self-examination.

How often. Women ages 20 to 39 should have one every three years; women 40 and over should have the exam annually.


Why it’s important. Most cancer experts advocate clinical breast examination, breast self-examination, and mammography together to give you the best chance of detecting breast cancer in an early stage.

Points to remember. Schedule the test for the week after your period, when breasts are least tender and when abnormalities are easiest to detect.


What it is. Each breast is compressed between two plastic plates, then X-rayed to detect cancer or other problems.

How often. All cancer experts agree women should have mammograms on a regular basis (every one to two years) when they’re in their 40s. However, many recommend that starting at age 40, women should have a mammogram every year. Cancer specialists suggest that women who may be at increased risk for breast cancer should consider mammograms at an earlier age.

Why it’s important. Mammography can detect cancer before a lump becomes large enough to feel. It can also help identify other breast problems.

Points to remember: For the most accurate results, schedule the test for the week after your period. Don’t wear body lotion, powder, perfume, antiperspirant, or jewelry on the day of the test.

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