What Is Breast Cancer Screening?

Medically Reviewed on 10/12/2022
Breast Cancer Screening
A mammogram is the best screening option to detect breast cancer.

Breast cancer screening is the process of examining the breasts for cancer before any signs or symptoms are present.

Although screening cannot prevent cancer, it can help detect it early when it is more manageable to treat. Screening looks out for the signs of cancer.

Breast cancer is a malignant disease where the tumor (cancer-causing) cells grow numerously in the tissues. Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer globally.

Overall, nearly 8 out of 10 women diagnosed with breast cancer today are expected to live for at least 10 years.

What is cancer screening?

Breast cancer screening is the test that is done to detect cancer. The screening test helps find cancer at an early stage when it can be treated and cured.

Educating all women about the various screening tests, their risks, and benefits and the right time for the screening is important. This is called informed and shared decision-making. Breast cancer screening programs report that 1 in every 1,000 women who undergo screening has breast cancer.

Why is breast cancer screening important?

The following are the benefits of breast cancer screening:

  • Breast cancer is diagnosed after the symptoms appear, but many women with breast cancer do not show any signs. It is essential to go for regular breast cancer screening.
  • These screening tests help determine the disease in the early stages.
  • Early detection of cancer helps the person to live longer, decreases the odds, and improves the chance of recovery.

It is essential to remember that breast cancer screening will not help prevent the disease's occurrence, but it is necessary to detect early cancer.

What are the best screening methods to detect breast cancer?

The following are the best screening methods that are used to detect breast cancer:

  • Mammogram: A mammogram is the best screening option to detect breast cancer. Mammograms are X-rays of the breast that are used for the early detection of cancer. They can lower the risk of death caused by breast cancer. In recent days, with increased breast cancer cases, mammograms must be performed regularly.
    • There are two types of mammograms:
      • Two-dimensional (2D) digital mammogram: A 2D view is obtained by taking at least two pictures of each breast from different angles, typically from side to side and top to bottom.
      • Three-dimensional (3D) mammogram: Also called digital breast tomosynthesis, is a series of X-ray pictures of breasts from different angles.
  • Breast MRI: Is done in people at the highest risk of breast cancer because the breast may show abnormal findings although they are normal. These MRIs are not used in women with average risk and use magnetic and radio waves to take images of the breast.
  • Clinical examination of the breast: A doctor or nurse palpates the breast with the hands or fingers and checks for any swelling or lumps in the breast. If you have a strong family history of breast cancer, a clinical breast exam could be recommended more frequently.
  • Self-awareness: Be familiar with your breasts; this helps find out any lumps, pain, and changes in size. In addition, you should be able to inform your healthcare provider of any recent changes.


A lump in the breast is almost always cancer. See Answer

When to consult my doctor about breast changes

If you notice any of the following symptoms, you should contact your doctor:

  • A lump
  • Other than breast milk, nipple discharge (particularly bloody discharge)
  • Swelling
  • Size or shape changes
  • Irritation of the skin, such as redness, thickening, or dimpling
  • Swollen lymph nodes present in the armpit
  • Problems with the nipples, such as redness or pain

When are breast cancer screening tests recommended?

The following are guidelines for breast cancer screening in women at average risk:

  • Take an opinion from that doctor before going for screening tests
  • Talk to your doctor about the proper screening tests for you
  • If you are at average risk, get a yearly mammogram, starting from 40 years
  • Get a clinical examination of the breast every three years from 20 years and every year from 40 years
  • Screening tests are recommended in healthy women who are expected to live for another 10 years.

What are the risks of breast cancer screening?

The risks of breast cancer screening include:

  • False positive results that lead to anxiety
  • False negative tests may result in delays in the diagnosis and treatment
  • Pain and discomfort during the mammogram
  • Early detection may not help prevent the disease's occurrence, but it is necessary to detect early cancer for a better prognosis
  • During the mammogram, you may be exposed to minimal radiation
Medically Reviewed on 10/12/2022
Image Source: iStock image

Breast cancer. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/breast-cancer/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20352475

Guidelines for the Early Detection of Cancer. https://www.cancer.org/healthy/find-cancer-early/american-cancer-society-guidelines-for-the-early-detection-of-cancer.html