Having your breasts tested for indications of cancer on a regular basis is a vital aspect of maintaining your health. This is due to the fact that many breast cancer screening tests may identify cancer long before you feel symptoms. Breast cancer screening tests may identify subtle changes in your breast tissue over time. If a screening test detects an issue, your healthcare team may investigate further to determine if the changes are caused by cancer or something else. Treatment is often more effective when breast cancer is diagnosed and treated in its early stages.
According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year relative survival rate for persons with early-stage breast cancer is 99 percent. When breast cancer is discovered at a later stage, therapy is often more complicated, and the 5-year relative survival rate is lower. Keep in mind that these numbers, based on data from 2010 to2016, show a general tendency, and your circumstance may be more favorable.
Continue reading to find out more about breast cancer screening guidelines and procedures.
What are the breast cancer screening recommendations?
Various health groups advocate for various techniques to breast cancer screening. Here’s a synopsis of the recommendations issued by numerous reputable organizations.
The Preventive Services Task Force of the United States (USPSTF)
The USPSTF, a volunteer panel of 16 doctors and researchers, makes the following recommendations for adults at average risk of breast cancer:
|40–49||Individual preference — screening can be done every two years or you can wait until you’re 50 years old.|
|50–74||mammogram once every 2 years|
|75+||There are no recommendations for or against, so speak to your doctor about a screening strategy.|
According to the USPSTF, there is insufficient evidence to suggest further screenings for those with denser breast tissue if mammography does not reveal any symptoms of cancer.
American Cancer Society
The American Cancer Society Trusted Source suggests a slightly modified screening plan that extends the guideline for yearly screenings into the mid-50s:
|45–54||mammogram once per year|
|55+||As long as you’re in excellent health and have a life expectancy of 10 years or more, you should have a mammogram every 1–2 years.|
The American Cancer Society, like the USPSTF, does not have particular recommendations for persons with denser breast tissue owing to a lack of evidence to warrant further screenings.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology
ACOG physician members support collaborative decision-making between physicians and patients, as well as education on the advantages and disadvantages of different screening examinations.
|40–49||You may opt to have an annual clinical checkup and mammography, or you may have mammograms every two years, depending on your doctor’s recommendations.|
|50–74||mammogram every 1–2 years|
|75+||Select when to quit screening with your doctor, depending on your overall health and life expectancy.|
Unless mandated by state law, ACOG does not propose alternative or extra tests if you are asymptomatic and have no risk factors other than thick breast tissue.
What about those who are at higher risk for breast cancer?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Trusted Source, you are more likely to acquire breast cancer if you:
- have a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes
- have more thick breast tissue
- having a close family with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation (grandparent, parent, sibling, child, aunt, uncle, or first cousin)
- You had radiation therapy in your chest while you were between the ages of 10 and 30.
- have a family history of cancer, which increases your total risk of breast cancer
- having a close family history of uncommon illnesses such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Cowden syndrome, or Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome
Consult your doctor about your risk factors. You may also use one of the CDC’s assessment tools Trusted Source to determine your total breast cancer risk. If you have a higher-than-average risk of breast cancer, the American Cancer Society Trusted Source advises having a mammogram and an MRI scan every year starting at the age of30, for as long as your health is excellent. It’s important to consult a doctor’s advice when deciding whether to start annual tests.
According to the CDC Trusted Source, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network — a non-profit organization comprised of 31 cancer centres — recommends that high-risk women begin annual mammograms and MRI scans between the ages of 25 and 40, or at the earliest age when someone in their family was diagnosed with cancer.
What techniques are used to test for breast cancer?
Several different tests may be used by healthcare experts to identify changes in your breast tissue, including early symptoms of potential cancer.
Breast examination at the clinic
A clinical breast exam (CBE) involves a clinician manually inspecting your breasts for any palpable lumps or anomalies. However, according to a 2020 review Trusted Source, evidence on the effectiveness of CBE in avoiding cancer mortality is unclear. Some researchers, such as those in a 2016 study Trusted Source, believe that a CBE may be able to identify malignancies that a mammogram would miss. CBE, on the other hand, may only be useful as a diagnostic tool for certain groups of individuals.
According to 2017 research Trusted Source; the CBE process might be frightening for some individuals, particularly if they have a prior history of physical or sexual abuse. The sentiments elicited by breast examinations may even lead to women delaying or avoiding tests that might save their lives. If you have suffered trauma or abuse that makes you feel vulnerable, powerless, or nervous regarding clinical breast exams, you may discuss your concerns with your healthcare provider ahead of time. It is acceptable to request a different sort of screening or an examination by someone of a certain gender. It’s also OK to have someone else in the room with you during your test.
Mammography is the most extensively used breast cancer screening method. It’s an X-ray image of your breasts obtained by a mammography machine and interpreted by a radiologist. Most health insurance programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, cover mammograms.
Mammography in three dimensions
This form of mammography, also known as breast tomosynthesis, gives you a sharper and more detailed view of your breast tissue. According to the American Malignancy Society Trusted Source, 3-D mammography may provide a crisper image than standard mammography and may be more successful in detecting probable cancer. The 3-D exams may also reduce the likelihood that you will be asked back for further photographs.
Ultrasound creates an image of the interior of your breast by using sound waves. It’s especially useful for distinguishing between solid and fluid-filled tumors in your breast tissue. During an ultrasound, a technician applies gel to your breast and then glides a wand across the area to capture a picture formed by sound waves. It’s not a bad idea to go through the motions.
Scanners for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
A breast MRI creates a detailed picture of your breast tissue by combining magnetic energy and radio waves. If you have thick breast tissue, an MRI might be extremely helpful. You recline on a table with empty chambers for your breasts during an MRI. The table is gently lowered into a big tube-shaped MRI machine. The scanning equipment revolves around you. The scan is loud, but it shouldn’t be a problem.
An MRI may create anxiety if you are claustrophobic in small settings. If your doctor has ordered an MRI, inform them if you are claustrophobic or scared. They can talk about techniques to help you feel less anxious. Before the exam, they may also give a muscle relaxant or anti-anxiety medicine.
What to Expect During a Mammogram Screening Exam
Mammograms are often performed in an imaging facility or a radiologist’s clinic. Here are some pointers to help you get ready for a mammogram:
- If at all feasible, get your mammograms performed at the same location each time. This is because the radiologist needs to observe how your breast tissue has altered over time. If you do need to visit another facility, have the old one email your old photos to the new one.
- If you menstruate and have sensitive breasts around your period, attempt to schedule your mammogram for a time when your period isn’t coming up. Because mammograms require squeezing your breasts, it is typically simpler if your breasts are not already sore.
- Most centers advise against using powders, deodorants, creams, or lotions beneath your arms since these might make the pictures difficult to interpret precisely.
- If you’re nursing or suspect you’re pregnant, notify your technician before the test.
When you arrive at the facility, you will most likely be handed a gown that opens in the front. When it’s time for your exam, a technician will assist you in positioning your breast between two plates on an X-ray machine. Your breasts must be as flat as possible in order for the machine to collect good photos. It’s normal for the procedure to feel tight and unpleasant, but if it’s painful, let the technician know.
One breast will be photographed at a time by the technician, generally from two different perspectives. Each vision is just a few seconds long, and then the pressure is lifted. Depending on how many pictures are required, the full mammography procedure might take as little as 20 minutes. Following your exam, the radiologist will discuss any results with your healthcare provider. Within a few days, your healthcare professional will discuss the findings with you. If you haven’t heard from your doctor within a week, you have the right to contact and ask to talk with him or her about the findings.
What happens if the results aren’t as expected?
If your radiologist or doctor identifies an area of concern, you may need diagnostic mammography. Your doctor may also suggest further testing, such as ultrasounds, MRI scans, or biopsies. During a biopsy, a doctor takes a small piece of your breast tissue to be examined more precisely.
These additional tests are not uncommon, and they do not indicate that you have breast cancer. You may be contacted again because:
- A picture is not clear to view your breast tissue.
- Your breast tissue is very thick.
- Your doctor wants to examine a change in your breast tissue more precisely.
- A calcification, cyst, or mast should be examined more closely.
The overwhelming majority of breast cancer screenings are not followed by a cancer diagnosis.
Is there any danger in having a breast cancer screening?
Almost every medical treatment, including breast cancer screenings, includes some risk. When deciding when to start screenings and how often you want to have them, it’s important to weigh the known dangers.
Radiation-related cancer risk
Radiation exposure may create changes in your cells, some of which may increase your risk of cancer. You should be aware that mammography emits relatively little radiation. It’s less than a regular chest x-ray and, according to some experts, is equivalent to the amount of radiation you’d be exposed to in your normal surroundings during a 7-week period.
According to a 2016 study Trusted Source that looked at breast cancer incidence in 100,000 persons between the ages of 50 and 74, mammography may have had a role in the development of breast cancer in between 0.7 percent and 1.6 percent of cases. If you are at high risk for breast cancer, you and your doctor should discuss how frequent mammograms may reduce your chances.
Breast cancer screenings might sometimes result in:
- false positive outcomes
- Breast cancer overdiagnosis
- breast tissue biopsies that aren’t essential
In general, health experts believe that the advantages of frequent breast cancer screenings, including early cancer discovery, exceed the dangers of the screening tests themselves.
Breast cancer screening may assist your doctor in detecting cancer in its early stages. Malignancies treated at an earlier stage are frequently simpler to treat than cancers treated at a later stage.
Mammography is the most frequent method of screening for breast cancer, however, ultrasounds and MRI scans may also be useful. Many cancer professionals suggest that women start getting yearly mammograms at the age of 40. When you reach your fifties, you may choose to get a mammogram every other year.
When you start getting mammograms and when you stop having them is something you should discuss with your doctor since individual risk factors differ from person to person. There are certain hazards of undergoing breast cancer screenings, but they are typically seen as minor in comparison to the benefit of being able to detect and treat breast cancer in its early stages.