What is a breast cancer screening?

The two most common types of breast cancer screenings are clinical breast exams (CBE) and mammograms. Other tests, such as MRI, might be used in screening high-risk individuals, but this is not common. CBE’s are generally performed on women of all ages every one to three years during regular doctor’s visits. During a CBE, a health care provider will inspect the breasts, underarms, and collarbone area. The doctor is looking for:

  • Differences in size or shape between the breasts,
  • A rash, dimpling, or other abnormal signs in the skin,
  • Fluid from the nipple,
  • Lumps, pea-sized or larger, or
  • Enlarged lymph nodes near the breast.

A screening mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that is performed to check the breasts for cancer even if a person does not present with any symptoms or lumps. This is because sometimes cancer cannot be felt in the breast. The U.S. Preventative Task Force recommends mammograms for women ages 50-74 every one to two years. Women who are at higher than average risk of breast cancer, because of a family history of the disease or because they carry a known genetic mutation such as the BRCA1 or the BRCA2 gene, should talk with their health care providers about whether to have mammograms before age 50 and how often to have them.

There is debate about exactly how often women should be screened, with some groups recommending mammograms start as early as 40. The most important thing to do is to discuss your risk factors and personal health with your doctor to arrange a schedule that is comfortable for both of you.

For more information contact Courtney Britton, librarian at Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge at (225) 927-2273, cbritton@cancerservices.org , or visit the Education Center at 550 Lobdell Ave., Baton Rouge.

ä On the internet:

Mammograms FactSheet – NCI


U.S. Preventive Services Task Force


This column is presented as a service by Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge, a United Way affiliate.