Breast Cancer Screening Recommendations

Breast Cancer Screening

Breast cancer screening means checking the breasts for cancer before there are signs or symptoms of a problem. Medical clinics, hospitals, health care providers' offices, and imaging centers offer breast cancer screening. Breast cancer screening cannot prevent breast cancer, but it can find it early when it may be easier to treat. Talk to your health care provider about which screening tests are right for you, and when you should have them.

Breast Cancer Screening and COVID-19 Vaccines

You may be told by your health care provider to schedule your screening mammogram before any COVID-19 vaccine or booster, or 4 to 6 weeks after a vaccine/booster. COVID-19 vaccines may cause swelling of lymph nodes in the armpit on the side of the body that the shot was given. This is normal and will go away over time. But swollen lymph nodes under the arm can also be a symptom of breast cancer and may show up on a mammogram. This may lead to more tests.

Do not delay your mammogram if you are having any problems with your breasts or have breast cancer symptoms. See your health care provider as soon as possible about your concerns. Together you will decide when the right time is for your mammogram.

Breast Cancer Screening Recommendation

Current guidelines* recommend women who are 50 to 74 years old and at average risk for breast cancer to have a screening mammogram every two years. Women ages 40 to 49 years old are encouraged to talk to their health care providers about when and how often they should have mammograms. A woman who has a high risk for breast cancer, as determined by a health care provider, may need to begin screening earlier and with additional screening tests.

*These are United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) guidelines. Many organizations and professional societies have developed guidelines for mammography screening. All recommend that women should talk with their doctor about the benefits and harms of mammography, when to start screening, and how often to be screened. Women should be aware of their own risk for breast cancer and decide, with a health care provider, when and how to be screened for breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Screening Test

Mammogram - A mammogram is a low-dose X-ray of the breast. It is the best way to look for early signs of breast cancer. Getting a mammogram regularly can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer.

Other Exams

  • Clinical breast exam - A clinical breast exam is an examination by a health care provider, who uses their hands to feel for lumps or other changes in the breast or underarm (armpit).
  • Breast Self-Awareness -Knowing how your breasts normally look and feel can help you notice changes, such as lumps, pain, or a difference in breast size. These could include changes found during a breast self-exam. You should contact your health care provider about anything that worries you.

Clinical breast exams or self-exams alone are not enough to find breast cancer. Women who choose to have clinical breast exams and to perform breast self-exams should also get regular mammograms.

Additional Information

If there is something concerning on a mammogram or during a clinical breast exam, your health care provider may send you for additional tests, including more mammogram views, breast ultrasound, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or biopsy. Additional tests may also include, ductogram or thermography.

IMPORTANT: Thermography is not a substitute for mammography and should not be used for breast cancer screening or diagnosis. Go to the National Cancer Institute (patient information and provider information) and the Federal Drug Administration (patient information and safety communication) for more information about thermography.