Understanding Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines: Mammograms, Clinical Breast Exams & More

mammogramAccording to data from the National Cancer Institute, approximately 12% of all women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point during their lifetime. Statistics like these, combined with recent high profile cases such as Angelina Jolie undergoing a preventive double mastectomy, have led many women to ask what type of breast cancer screenings they need and when, to ensure they are prioritizing their breast health and catching any breast abnormalities as early as possible.

To help clear up confusion and promote early detection, the American Cancer Society (ACS) provides guidelines for breast screenings, ranging from recommendations around breast self exams, to clinical breast exams (CBEs) and mammograms, to MRIs.

“While breast screenings can’t prevent breast cancer, they can help make sure cases are diagnosed early, when they are most treatable,” said Linda Byrd, RN, breast cancer patient navigator at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital.

Breast Self Exams
Self-awareness and examination of the breasts is an option that’s recommended by the ACS beginning when a woman is in her 20s. A breast self exam (BSE) is a step-by-step way for a woman to examine her own breasts for changes and abnormalities. Visit our site for more information on how to conduct a proper breast self exam.

Clinical Breast Exam Screening Guidelines
A clinical breast exam is an exam in which a medical professional examines the breasts looking for any abnormalities in the size, shape, or skin of the breasts.

The ACS recommends women in their 20s and 30s get clinical breast exams every three years. For women age 40 and over, the ACS recommends getting a CBE every year.

Screening Mammogram Guidelines
A mammogram provides X-ray images of the breast that can help detect abnormalities that can’t always be felt and found during a CBE, such as some tumors. Mammograms are also able to identify microcalcifications in the breast, which can be another sign of breast cancer.

The ACS recommends yearly mammograms for all women beginning at age 40 and continuing as long as the woman is in good health. For women with serious and chronic health problems (e.g. end-stage renal disease or congestive heart failure), the ACS recommends discussing breast screening options with their doctor.

Guidelines for Women at High Risk for Breast Cancer

For women at a high risk for breast cancer, the ACS recommends a combination of both a mammogram and an MRI on a yearly basis. Women at high risk include those who:

  • have a lifetime risk of breast cancer of 20-25% or greater based on family history-focused risk assessment tools and techniques
  • had radiation therapy to the chest area between the ages of ten and 30 years old
  • have a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation or a first-degree relative with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation

Because an MRI may miss some forms of cancer that could be caught by screening mammogram, the ACS recommends that if an MRI is used, it should be used in conjunction with a standard screening mammogram.

Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital offers a comprehensive breast health program, including patient navigators who guide patients through the testing and treatment process.

To speak to Linda Byrd, the breast cancer patient navigator, call 678-843-7118.

To schedule a screening mammogram at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital, call 404-686-0500.

For more information on early detection and breast screening guidelines, visit the American Cancer Society website.


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