Breast cancer screenings are tests used to look for cancer before a person has any symptoms. In many cases, cancer has already begun to spread when symptoms appear. Screenings allow doctors to detect cancer early, which can make it easier for them to treat. These tests are also performed so that doctors can better understand the causes of cancer and who is more likely to get it. There are two common breast cancer screening tests – mammograms and clinical breast exams (CBEs).
A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast that can find tumors that may be too small to feel or abnormalities that are not producing any symptoms. The breast is x-rayed from top to bottom and from side to side. A CBE is an examination of the breast, where a doctor or health professional will carefully feel the breast and surrounding areas for lumps or anything that seems unusual. It is recommended that women start getting breast exams every three years starting at age 20, and CBEs annually after turning 40. There are varying recommendations for when women should start getting annual mammograms. Typically, the starting age is between 40 and 50. You should discuss when to start mammograms with your doctor.
If a screening test shows any abnormalities, further testing may be necessary for additional evaluation. These tests can include diagnostic mammograms, which focus in on the area of abnormality, breast ultrasounds, and/or needle biopsies.
It is very important to make sure you are getting breast examinations as often as you should.
The Center for Breast Care and Diagnostic Imaging at St. Mark’s Hospital provides breast cancer screening services and more, including:
- Physical breast exams from a certified breast care nurse
- Digital mammography services
- Guidelines for performing self-examinations of the breasts
- Information about risk factors, symptoms and early detection
- Counseling for high-risk patients
- Breast cancer support groups
For more information on these services or to schedule an appointment, call (801) 743-6500.
Remember: If your doctor asks you to complete a breast cancer screening test, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have cancer. It is simply a precautious step to either confirm cancer is not present or, if it is, treat it early. It’s also important to remember that screening isn’t only your doctor’s responsibility. Perform self-examinations regularly and inform your doctor about anything unusual right away.