Breast Cancer Screening

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Breast Cancer Screening

Topic Overview

The type and frequency of breast cancer testing changes as you age.1

If you have high risk: Talk to your doctor about how often you need screening if your mother, sister, or daughter had breast cancer or you have a family history of cancer. You may need a referral from your doctor to have clinical breast examinations and mammograms.2, 3

  • Ages 40 to 49: Your province may recommend screening beginning at age 40. For example, if you live in British Columbia, you should have a clinical breast examination and mammogram at least every 2 years. If you are not sure what is recommended in your province, talk to your doctor about how often you need a screening.
  • Ages 50 to 69: You should have a clinical breast examination at least every 2 years and a mammogram every 2 years.
  • Ages 70 to 79: Your province may recommend screening through your 70s. For example, if you live in British Columbia, you should keep having clinical breast examinations and mammograms at least every 2 years.

You can find out your personal risk level at www.cancer.gov/bcrisktool.

If you are not sure what is recommended in your province, talk to your doctor about how often you need a screening.

Early detection is an important factor in the success of breast cancer treatment. The earlier breast cancer is found, the more easily and successfully it can be treated. The three methods commonly used for early detection are:

  • Mammogram. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that can often find tumours that are too small for you or your doctor to feel. Your doctor may suggest that you have a screening mammogram if you are age 40 and older, especially if you have any risk factors for breast cancer. Screening mammograms are most useful after age 50, but experts in your province may recommend starting screening at age 40.
    Click here to view a Decision Point. Breast Cancer Screening: When Should I Start Having Mammograms?
  • Clinical breast examination (CBE). During a clinical breast examination, your doctor will carefully feel your breasts and under your arms to check for lumps or other unusual changes. 4

It is important to know what your breasts normally look and feel like. When you know what is normal for you, you are better able to notice changes. Tell your doctor right away if you notice any changes in your breasts.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the breast may be used as a screening test for women who have a high risk of breast cancer. This includes women who test positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, or have two or more close family members who have had breast cancer before age 50. MRI may also be used to evaluate the opposite breast in women diagnosed with breast cancer.

For more information, see the topic Breast Cancer.

References

Citations

  1. Ringash J; Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care (2001). Preventive health care, 2001 update: Screening mammongraphy among women aged 40–49 years at average risk of breast cancer. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 164(4): 469–476.
  2. Canadian Cancer Society (2006). Early detection and screening for breast cancer. Available online: http://www.cancer.ca/ccs/internet/standard/0,3182,3172_10175_74544430_langId-en,00.html.
  3. BC Cancer Agency (2007). About the screening mammography program. Available online: http://www.bccancer.bc.ca/PPI/Screening/Breast/SMP.htm.
  4. Smith RA, D'Orsi CJ (2004). Screening for breast cancer. In JR Harris et al., eds., Diseases of the Breast, 3rd ed., pp. 103–130. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Andrew Swan, MD, CCFP, FCFP - Family Medicine
Last Revised June 2, 2010

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.