Screening refers to tests and exams used to find a disease, like cancer, in people who do not have any symptoms. The goal of screening exams,
such as mammograms, is to find cancers before they start to cause symptoms. Breast cancers that are found because they can be felt tend to
be larger and are more likely to have already spread beyond the breast. In contrast, breast cancers found during screening exams are more
likely to be small and still confined to the breast. The size of a breast cancer and how far it has spread are important factors in predicting
the prognosis (outlook) for a woman with this disease.
American Cancer Society breast screening guidelines
- Women age 40 and older should have a screening mammogram every year and should continue to do so for as long as they are in good health.
- Women in their 20's and 30's should have a clinical breast exam (CBE) as part of a periodic (regular) health exam by a health professional, at least every 3 years. After age 40, women should have a breast exam by a health professional every year.
- Breast self exam (BSE) is an option for women starting in their 20's. Women should be told about the benefits and limitations of BSE. Women should report any breast changes to their health professional right away.
Source: American Cancer Society (ACS) Can breast cancer be found early?
NCCN Breast Screening guidelines
Women at Normal Risk
- For women between ages 20 and 39 years, a clinical breast examination every 1-3 years is recommended, with breast awareness encouraged.
- For women aged 40 years and older, annual clinical breast examination and screening mammography are recommended, with breast awareness encouraged.
- Upper age limit for screening not established.
Source: National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) Breast Cancer Screening and Diagnosis [PDF]
Clinical Breast ExamAn exam of the breast by a doctor or other health professional. The doctor will carefully feel the breasts and under the arms for lumps or anything else that seems unusual.
Mammograms are x-ray pictures of the breast that are effective for finding breast cancer. Mammograms can be used to check for breast cancer in women who have no signs or symptoms of the disease. This type of mammogram is called a screening mammogram. Mammograms also can be used to check for breast cancer after a lump or other sign or symptom of the disease has been found. This type of mammogram is called a diagnostic mammogram.
Source: National Cancer Institute (NCI) Understanding Mammograms and Your Risk of Breast Cancer and General Information About Breast Cancer.