Breast cancer screening

Because some forms of breast cancer are more aggressive than others, it is important to quickly and accurately diagnose breast cancer as early as possible. An accurate diagnosis enables your doctor to prescribe a treatment plan tailored to your cancer and your needs.

While it's far more common among women, breast cancer can occur in men as well. Signs and symptoms of breast cancer may include:

  • A lump that feels different from the other breast tissue
  • A change in the shape, size or appearance of a breast
  • Changes to the breast skin, such as dimpling
  • A newly inverted nipple
  • Peeling, scaling, crusting or flaking of breast skin or of the pigmented area of the skin surrounding the nipple (areola)
  • Redness or pitting of breast skin, like the skin of an orange
  • Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any persistent signs or symptoms that worry you.

How often should you be screened for breast cancer?

When you should begin screening for breast cancer and how often depends on many risk factors. Women with average risk of breast cancer generally start receiving mammograms at age 40 and have one every two years, though professional medical groups differ on their recommendations.

For women who are at high risk of breast cancer, it may be recommended to begin screening before age 40. Depending on the type of risk, your doctor may also recommend magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in addition to mammography.

Risk factors

Risk factors for breast cancer include:

  • Being female
  • Increasing age
  • A personal history of breast conditions
  • A personal history of breast cancer
  • A family history of breast cancer
  • Inherited genes that increase cancer risk
  • Radiation exposure
  • Obesity
  • Beginning your period at a younger age
  • Beginning menopause at an older age
  • Having your first child at an older age
  • Having never been pregnant
  • Postmenopausal hormone therapy
  • Drinking alcohol

What does breast cancer screening involve?

There are three basic forms of breast cancer screening:

  • Breast exam. During a breast exam, your doctor will check your breasts and lymph nodes in your armpit for lumps or other abnormalities.
  • Mammogram. Mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. If it reveals an abnormality, your doctor may recommend other diagnostic tests, such as ultrasound or biopsy.
  • Breast MRI. A breast MRI involves an injection of dye and magnetic and radio waves to create images of the interior of the breast. One of its advantages is it doesn't use radiation.

Mayo Clinic Healthcare will work with you to determine if screening is right for you and, if so, which options best suit your needs and preferences.

Learn more about breast cancer at MayoClinic.org