Screening Guidelines

Screening tests are used to find cancers early, before symptoms are present. The primary tool for breast cancer screening is a mammogram. Not all groups of experts agree as to how frequently women in various age groups (such as those between forty and fifty) should undergo mammograms.

The following guidelines have been adopted by the American Cancer Society:

  • Yearly mammograms starting at age 40 and continuing for as long as a woman is in good health.
  • Clinical breast exam - a breast examination by a health care professional -about every 3 years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and over.
  • Women should know how their breasts normally look and feel and report any breast change promptly to their medical provider. Breast self-exam is an option for women starting in their 20s.

Self Breast Exam

This may be performed in the shower, by putting one hand behind your head and using the flat pad of your fingers (do not use fingertips). Move your hand slowly over the entire breast area. After your shower, stand in front of a mirror, with your hands at your waist, and then with your arms raised, looking for changes in the shape of the breast or the breast skin. Finally, lying down, place a small pillow or a folded towel under your right shoulder and your right hand behind your head. With flat fingers, press the breast gently in small circles, covering all the breast and area upward toward the underarm. Check for lumps or a thickening that stands out from the rest of the breast tissue. Examine the underarm area. Repeat on the left.

Breast Changes To Look For

  • A lump or thickening in the breast,
  • A change in the shape of the breast that is different than in the same area of the opposite breast
  • Dimpling or puckering in the skin of the breast
  • A nipple being drawn inward or inside the breast
  • Discharge or fluid from the nipple, note color (especially if it appears bloody or rusty)
  • Red, swollen or thickened skin on the breast or the areola (the dark circle that surrounds the nipple). Check the skin for ridges or pebbling that may resemble the skin of an orange.

Report any breast changes to your medical care provider promptly.