Breast Cancer Screening Recommendations

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. Talk to your health care provider about which tests are right for you, and when you should have them.

  • Mammogram - A mammogram is a low-dose X-ray of the breast. Health care providers use a mammogram to look for early signs of breast cancer. The most current guidelines* suggest women ages 50 to 74 years old should have a screening mammogram every two years. Women ages 40–49 years old are encouraged to talk to their health care providers about when and how often they should have screening mammograms. A woman who has a high risk for breast cancer, as determined by a health care provider, may need to begin screening earlier.
  • Clinical breast exam - A clinical breast exam is an examination by a health care provider, who uses his or her hands to feel for lumps or other changes in the breast or underarm (armpit).

*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 and COVID-19 Vaccine

Talk to your health care provider about whether to schedule your screening mammogram before the first dose of any COVID-19 vaccine or 4-6 weeks after your final dose of vaccine. 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 is the right time for your mammogram.

Additional Screening Information

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

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. Link 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.