Breast Cancer Screening and Diagnosis

Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 26 March 2021

The Importance of Breast Cancer Screening

The earlier breast cancer is detected, the higher your chances of receiving effective care.

That’s why it’s important to have mammograms as recommended, to know how your breasts normally look, and to notify your doctor about any changes as soon as possible. What is the reason for this?

  • Breast cancer risk is increasing: In 1940, a woman’s average chance of breast cancer was about 5%, or 1 in 20. It’s now at 12%, or more than 1 in 8.
  • Early detection improves outcomes:  Women that have mammograms for breast cancer screening have a reduced risk of dying from the disease. This is contingent on:
    • The test’s overall quality
    • Being screened as often as needed
    • Adhering to your treatment once you receive a diagnosis

Breast Examination

Knowing how your breasts usually look and feel can help you spot some changes.

However, different medical organizations have varying breast self-examination guidelines. According to the American Cancer Society, a study has not demonstrated a definite advantage of doing daily breast self-exams. Consult the doctor to learn more about what’s best for you.

Your doctor will do a professional breast exam to check for lumps or any changes. It’s part of the routine review. Your doctor will test both breasts individually. They’ll even look at the underarms and collarbone. They can recommend additional testing if they find suspicious lumps. Your doctor will also visually inspect your breasts for any rashes or other abnormalities. They could even lightly squeeze the nipples to see if any liquid leaks, as that can be a symptom of cancer.


A mammogram is a form of X-ray that is used to examine the breast. Breast lumps may be identified up to two years before they are felt. A variety of methods may be used to assess if a lump is cancerous. Many that aren’t cancerous have distinct anatomical characteristics from those that are. Mammograms and ultrasounds are popular imaging measures that can detect the difference.

Screening mammograms examine the breasts when you don’t have a specific tumour or any cause for worry.

Diagnostic mammograms concentrate on a certain region or areas that you or your doctor are worried about, such as a suspicious lump, breast pain, nipple discharge, changes in breast size or shape, or any skin changes on the breast.

It’s up to you and your doctor to decide when and if you require diagnostic mammograms. The majority of people do not begin getting diagnostic mammograms until they are at least 40 years old. If you have a higher chance of breast cancer, your doctor can advise you to begin earlier.

Breast MRI

This examination incorporates several photographs of your breast into a single image to provide a detailed visual. It’s most often used after you’ve been diagnosed to see how far cancer has advanced, but your doctor can use it as a screening test in conjunction with a mammogram if:

  • You have a significant chance of getting breast cancer.
  • You have a history of breast or ovarian cancer in your family.
  • Your breasts are dense (lots of ducts, glands, and fibrous tissue, just not much fat), and mammograms showed no prior breast cancer.
  • You’ve seen precancerous breast changes like atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ, and you have a long family history of breast cancer.
  • You have a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.
  • Before you turned 30, you had radiation therapies on your chest area.

Breast Ultrasound

When you have dense breasts, the doctor is likely to use something. It’s also an alternative if you’re at increased risk for breast cancer and can’t get an MRI, or whether you’re pregnant and can’t get a mammogram because of the X-rays.

Screening Recommendations

All women are strongly advised to get mammogram breast screenings depending on age. Exact screening guidelines will vary with country.

  • 45 to 54: Once a year mammograms
  • 55 and older: Once a year mammograms or every other year mammograms
  • 40 to 44: Consider starting annual mammograms

For women aged 50 to 74, screening mammograms are recommended every other year. It is up to you and your doctor to determine if you can have a mammogram every other year from the age of 40 to 49.



A doctor must perform a needle aspiration or surgical breast biopsy to gather and examine tissue for cancer cells in order to confirm cancer.


If It Is Cancer

You and your doctor will like to determine what kind of breast cancer you have and how advanced it is if you are diagnosed with it. If the disease has advanced, the lymph nodes will be checked. Other studies will help you find out which medications would be well for you, and others will determine when your cancer will grow following surgery.

A doctor will clarify all of these assessments to you, and you and your doctor can decide on the right treatment plan for you.


Referenced on 26.3.2021

  2. National Cancer Institute.
  3. Journal of the American Medical Association.
  4. Cleveland Clinic: “General Cancer Screening Guidelines.”
  5. “U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics.”
  6. JAMA Network: “Breast Cancer Screening for Women at Average Risk: 2015 Guideline Update From the American Cancer Society.”
  7. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force: “Breast Cancer: Screening.”
  8. Mayo Clinic: “Breast MRI.”
  9. Radiological Society of North America: “Breast Cancer Screening.”
  10. CDC: “What Is Breast Cancer Screening?”
  11. National Breast Cancer Foundation: “Clinical Breast Exam,” “Diagnostic Mammogram.”

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