What Tests Are Used to Screen for Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer screening means checking a woman's breasts for cancer before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms. Early detection of breast cancer allows the cancer to be diagnosed at an early stage when treatment is most successful in lowering the risk of dying from breast cancer.

There are two main tests used to screen the breasts for cancer. Talk to your doctor about which tests are right for you, and when you should have them.

Mammogram. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. Having regular mammograms can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer.

  • If you are age 40–49 years, talk to your doctor about when and how often you should have a screening mammogram.
  • If you are age 50 to 74 years, be sure to have a screening mammogram every two years.

Clinical breast exam. A clinical breast exam is an examination by a doctor or nurse, who uses his or her hands to feel for lumps or other changes.

At this time, the best way to find breast cancer is with a mammogram. If you choose to have a clinical breast exam, be sure you also get a mammogram regularly.


Do I need to prepare for a mammogram?

Helpful hints to prepare for a mammogram include:

  • Do not use deodorant, powder, cream, perfume or cologne on your breasts. 
  • Avoid caffeine (in coffee, tea, chocolate or cola drinks) for a few days before the mammogram; caffeine can increase breast sensitivity.  


Breast cancer awareness quiz

Simmons College School of Nursing and Health Sciences has developed an interactive breast cancer awareness quiz. Learn about your risk and find out how informed you are about controllable factors (such as weight and exercise) as well as factors beyond your control.

Take the quiz here: https://onlinenursing.simmons.edu/blog-bca/bca-quiz.html

Breast Cancer Screening:

Clinical Summary of U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation