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Breast Cancer (Facts, Stages) (cont.)

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How is breast cancer diagnosed?

A variety of tests are used for the diagnosis of breast cancer.

Screening for breast cancer

Screening mammography has made it possible to detect many breast cancers before they produce any signs or symptoms. While there is no doubt that mammography is important, recommendations regarding frequency and age at which women should begin receiving screening mammography differ slightly between different organizations and task forces.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommendations for breast cancer screening are as follows:

  • Women age 40 and older should have a screening mammogram every year. They should continue to do so as long as they are in good health.
  • Women should have a clinical breast exam (CBE) as part of regular health exams by a health-care professional about every three years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 years of age and over.

Mammography is generally of greater benefit in older women than in younger women, because younger women frequently have more dense breasts, and there is a higher incidence of false-positive mammography results in younger women. The addition of ultrasound examination to screening mammography can be of value in screening younger women at higher risk or who have dense breast tissue.

Because of these limitations of mammography in younger women, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that routine yearly screening mammography begin at age 50. Women aged 40 to 49 are encouraged to discuss their situation with their health-care practitioner to decide on the appropriate time to begin screening mammography.

Breast self-examination (BSE) is an option for women starting in their 20s. Women should report any breast changes to their health-care professional.

If a woman wishes to do BSE, the technique should be reviewed with her health -care professional. The goal is to feel comfortable with the way the woman's breasts feel and look and, therefore, the woman can detect changes in her breasts if they do not feel or look normal.

For some women at higher risk of developing breast cancer, the addition of MRI scanning is recommended as a screening tool. The American Cancer Society recommends that women at high risk for breast cancer (greater than 20% lifetime risk) receive an MRI and a mammogram every year. Women at moderately increased risk (15%-20% lifetime risk) should discuss the benefits and limitations of adding MRI screening with their health-care professional.

Women should discuss with their doctor about how often and when they should begin screening tests.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/29/2014


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