Your Breast Cancer Screening Questions Answered

Learn when and how you should test for this deadly disease

Breast cancer screening questions The statistics are jarring. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), breast cancer is the second-most commonly diagnosed cancer among women in the United States, after skin cancers. It’s estimated that about one in three newly diagnosed cancers in women in 2022 will be breast cancers. That means nearly 288,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed this year, along with just over 51,000 new cases of noninvasive (in situ) breast cancer.

Stay Proactive About Screenings

The Cancer Society’s latest recommendation is that:

  • Women ages 40 to 44 should consider an annual breast cancer screening by mammogram (an X-ray of the breast), which is the most sensitive test available for detecting signs of breast cancer.
  • Women ages 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
  • Women 55 and older should continue annual screenings or switch to mammograms every 2 years.

Here are some common questions and answers about mammograms.

Q. What are digital 3D mammograms?

Digital 3D mammograms use X-rays to create a three-dimensional image of the breast, instead of the two-dimensional image provided by traditional mammograms. They use a lower dose of radiation and can support further evaluation by providing images of the breast from many different angles. A computer program allows images to be enlarged or enhanced, helping to precisely locate and diagnose abnormalities.

Q: What happens if my mammogram result is abnormal?

If the result is abnormal, your doctor can order additional views that are magnified, providing a more detailed view of the area in question. Fortunately, many lumps are not cancerous. But if your doctor has any doubt, he or she may order further testing. If they still have questions, a biopsy may be recommended to test the cells in the suspicious area.

Q: What does it mean if I need a biopsy?

A breast biopsy is a surgical procedure to see if cancer cells are present in a specific location in the breast. A biopsy is performed under local anesthesia with a thin needle and image guidance, either ultrasound or stereotactic. The test pinpoints the lump or calcifications by using a computer and X-rays taken from multiple angles.

The sample is then looked at under a microscope to determine if the cells are cancerous. If a biopsy comes back from the lab as positive for breast cancer, the patient will be referred to a surgeon to have it removed. Fortunately, most breast biopsies are negative, or benign.

Read more  What’s the difference? Male breast cancer and female breast cancer

Q. How do I know if I’m at a higher risk?

Talking with your physician and providing a thorough personal health history can help to identify your risk. The discussion may include questions such as:

  • Do you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer?
  • Do you smoke?
  • Do you have breast pain associated with your menstrual cycle?

Your doctor can then help you determine the care that is best for you.

Q. Who should have genetic testing?

Mutations, or changes, in certain genes, including BRCA1 and BRCA2, can increase the risk of breast or ovarian cancer. Women who have a family history of cancer or who have had cancer at an early age may be referred for, or can request, genetic counseling and testing.

If mutations are found, a team of genetic counselors and medical specialists work with patients to manage their risk. Depending on the patient, recommendations may include increased monitoring, special imaging or medication to lower one’s risk. High-risk mutations may also call for preventive surgery.

How to conduct a breast self-exam

Self-exams play an important role in early detection of breast cancer and can help you learn more about your own body. Here is how to perform one effectively.

  1. Lie on your back and place your right arm behind your head. Take the finger pads of your three middle fingers on your left hand and use three levels of pressure to feel for lumps in the right breast. Light pressure for surface tissue; medium pressure for deeper tissue; and firm pressure closer to the chest wall and ribs.
  2. Move in an up-and-down pattern, beginning from the underarm and moving across the breast to the middle of the chest bone. Go down as far as the ribs and up as far as the collarbone. Repeat on the left breast.
  3. Stand in front of a mirror with your hands pressed firmly on your hips and look at your breasts. Look for any changes in size, shape or contour. Also check for dimpling or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin.

NOTE: If you have breast implants, learn where the edges of the implants are located so you don’t mistake it for a lump.

— Update: 12-02-2023 — found an additional article 10 questions about breast cancer screening, answered from the website for the keyword breast cancer screening questions.

Thanks to advancements in imaging technology and radiology, the prevention and early detection of cancers — as well as patient outcomes — are improving all the time.

The KEVII Breast Health Centre regularly performs over 250 mammograms each month. Sue Milner, Breast Service Manager at the Centre, answers our questions to give more insight into managing your breast health, and what you can expect from a breast screening appointment.

1. How often should breast self-examination be done?

Breast self-exams are important because they help you to become ‘breast aware’.

You don’t have to check your breasts all the time, or follow a fixed self-examination routine. What is important, is that you remember to pay attention to your cycle, as your breasts will look and feel different while you are ovulating, compared to when you may be menstruating. This way you can understand your own breasts better, and what feels right, or usual, for you.

Remember too, to be cautious with examining breast tissue when breastfeeding, as things may change once you’ve stopped.

2. What are the early signs of breast cancer?

Lumps are the most common early symptoms of breast cancer but there are many different signs. This can include symptoms like discharge from the nipple, retracted nipples, dimpling of the skin, and others.

Read more  Questions to ask about breast cancer screening

Anything unusual for you, or a significant change in breast appearance without reasonable explanation, could be a cause for concern. Do remember though that this doesn’t mean you have cancer.

3. Does a mammogram hurt?

A mammogram may be slightly uncomfortable but it shouldn’t be painful. Your breast care team will explain the process fully to you, so you know what to expect from your first mammogram.

Often, patients will ask us if their breasts will be completely ‘squished’ or ‘flattened’. The breasts are firmly compressed when undertaking a mammogram, not just to see the tissue but to also reduce the radiation exposure. This doesn’t hurt, but if you are particularly sensitive to compression, this can feel a bit uncomfortable.

4. How long does a mammogram take to perform?

This is very much led by the patient and their needs. The actual mammogram is very quick and can even be completed in 5 minutes!

I’ve completed a screening in minutes, and I’ve also completed others that have taken an hour. Every patient is different and requires a different approach.

Ask questions during your mammogram — your breast care nurse will be more than happy to provide you with information!

5. Would you recommend a breast MRI or ultrasound over a mammogram?

No. A mammogram is the gold standard in breast screening. You should always choose a mammogram unless you are under 35 and asymptomatic (which means when you aren’t showing any symptoms).

6. My breasts have felt really sore and tender – should I be worried?

Not always. Breast tenderness may be due to your hormone cycle (cyclical), an ill-fitting bra (non-cyclical) or due to strenuous exercise which has affected muscles around the breast (chest wall pain). These are all factors to consider.

Of course, any persistent pain and/or tenderness should be examined further.

7. Should men self-examine?

Absolutely! There is still a lack of awareness surrounding male breast cancer – in fact, most men who attend screenings do so because their partner has picked up an abnormality. Men should be breast aware in the same way women are.

8. A few women in my family have had breast cancer – should I go for further testing?

This is dependent on the family history, and we recommend patients be given the right guidance before going for an elective mammogram.

For example, this could be considering important factors such as whether the breast cancer is present in your family history in what is called the first tier (your mother or grandmother).

9. Can I go for a mammogram if I have breast implants?

Of course! The breast implant will still remain intact, so you don’t need to worry about your implants being ‘squished’.

10. What happens if I need further testing?

We offer a one-stop clinic. This starts with the mammogram, and if there is any cause for concern an ultrasound will be performed. From here, a biopsy will be taken to be examined.

Our Breast Health Centre is made up of a fantastic team of specialist consultants, breast care nurses and other medical professionals. And we have everything you need at the Centre.

More information

  • If you are concerned about your breast health, you should always consult your GP first (Don’t have a GP?)
  • The KEVII Breast Health Centre has been purposely designed to be a place of comfort, reassurance and expert care for our patients and their families.
  • If you are concerned about your breast health or have been advised to get a mammogram, please do not hesitate to contact the team. If your enquiry is urgent, please contact us here. 

— Update: 12-02-2023 — found an additional article Questions to ask about breast cancer screening from the website for the keyword breast cancer screening questions.

When you prepare for your annual check-up, take some time to consider questions that you may want to ask your doctor. Remember, the annual physicals is a chance for you and your doctor to be proactive about preventative health care and screening tests are an important part of that – including breast cancer screening for women. Here are a few questions related to breast cancer screening that you may want to add to your list. 

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Breast cancer screening questions

Is it time to schedule a mammogram? 

The most common type of breast cancer screening is the mammogram. Mammograms may detect changes in the breast that could be cancerous up to 2 years before a lump can be felt. The American Cancer Society recommends mammograms starting at age 40:

  • Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms (X-rays of the breast) if they wish to do so. 
  • Women ages 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
  • Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years, or can continue their yearly screening.

Learn more about early detection guidelines from the ACS. 

You’ll want to talk to your doctor about the best time to start mammograms based on your own personal history and breast cancer risk assessment. 

How should I prepare for a mammogram? 

Knowing what to expect from your mammogram can make it a more comfortable experience. Talk to your doctor about the best time of the month to schedule your mammogram and what to expect when you get there. You’ll also want to ask when you should expect to hear results. As part of the answer to this question, you should also ask where you should schedule your mammogram. If you have a choice, you’ll want to use a facility that specializes in mammograms and you’ll want to return to the same facility each year for easy comparisons. 

Will you be preforming a clinical breast exam today?

Breast self exams are often recommended as a way to know your breasts and recognize any changes, lumps or abnormalities. (Learn how to do a breast self exam.) Whether you regularly do breast self exams or never do them, you should still ask your doctor to do a clinical breast exam during your appointment. Your doctor is trained to recognize many different types of abnormalities and warning signs both visually and manually. Clinical breast exams are an important part of early detection.

Are there other screening tests that you recommend for someone with my risk factors? 

A mammogram is currently the most common screening test for breast cancer. However, it is not necessarily the best option for all women. If you have been identified as having a high risk of breast caner your doctor may recommend an MRI. 

What happens if the mammogram finds something abnormal?

Very few mammograms show an abnormal result. Remember, a mammogram doesn’t find cancer – it finds abnormalities that may be cancer. Upon further examination, most abnormal results are related to a benign, harmless breast condition or normal breast tissues that simply appeared different on the day of the exam. It is important that you follow up with your doctor if you have an abnormal result so ask this question to find out what process or tests the doctor most often recommends in this situation. 

You might also like: Five questions every woman should ask her doctor

When you schedule your mammogram, don’t be afraid to ask more questions such as: 

  • How long will the mammogram take?
  • Are there restrictions on perfumes, lotions or deodorant before the mammogram?
  • Are there recommendations on what to wear to the mammogram? 

Breast cancer screening questions


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