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Screening for Breast Cancer
by Michelle Badash, MS
The purpose of screening is early diagnosis and treatment. Screening tests are administered to people without current symptoms, but who may be at average or high risk for certain diseases or conditions.
Several professional organizations have published sometimes differing guidelines for breast cancer screening. Though this may seem confusing, the ultimate goal is to encourage individuals to discuss the risks, harms, and benefits of different breast cancer screening tests with their doctor.
The most current guidelines below are from the United States Preventive Services Task Force, the American Cancer Society, and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Screening Guidelines for Average Risk
Breast self-awareness is very important at any stage of life. Be aware of any changes, such as new or disappearing lumps, clear or bloody nipple discharge, dimpling or thickening of the skin, pain, or a feeling of fullness in the underarm area. Not all breast cancers cause symptoms and not all breast changes are caused by cancer, but it is important to discuss these with your doctor so they can determine if further testing is needed.
Screening Guidelines for High Risk
If you are in a high-risk group for developing breast cancer, you and your doctor will schedule more frequent screening tests, which will start at an earlier age.
The American Cancer Society recommends a yearly mammogram with an MRI scan starting at age 30 years for women with:
The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends:
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that high-risk women consider doing regular breast self-exams.
Screening Tests TOP
There are 3 main tests to screen women for breast cancer. Not all organizations recommend these methods, but you may choose to do them after you discuss the risks, harms, and benefits with your doctor. These include:
American Cancer Society recommendations for early breast cancer detection in women without breast symptoms. American Cancer Society website. Available at:
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Updated October 20, 2015. Accessed November 3, 2015.
Breast cancer: Screening. United States Preventive Services Task Force website. Available at:
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cancer. Updated November 2009. Accessed November 3, 2015.
Breast cancer screening. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated June 2, 2016. Accessed Octrober 3 2016.
10/23/2009 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance: http://www.dynamed.... Nothacker M, Duda V, Hahn M, et al. Early detection of breast cancer: benefits and risks of supplemental breast ultrasound in asymptomatic women with mammographically dense breast tissue. A systematic review. BMC Cancer. 2009;9:335.
1/19/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance: http://www.dynamed.... Lee CH, Dershaw DD, Kopans D, et al. Breast cancer screening with imaging: recommendations from the Society of Breast Imaging and the ACR on the use of mammography, breast MRI, breast ultrasound, and other technologies for the detection of clinically occult breast cancer. J Am Coll Radiol. 2010;7(1):18-27.
8/7/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance: http://www.dynamed.... Gotzsche PC, Jorgensen KJ. Screening for breast cancer with mammography. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013;6:CD001877.
7/17/2017 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed...: Committee on Practice Bulletins—Gynecology. Practice bulletin number 179: breast cancer risk assessment and screening in average-risk women.
Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 7/17/2017
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