How Often Should You Screen for Breast Cancer?

The two biggest risk factors for breast cancer are being a woman and getting older. Around 99% of breast cancers occur in women, and the median age for breast cancer diagnosis between 2010 and 2014 was 62 years. While it’s rare for young women to develop breast cancer it is important that all women know when and how often to screen for breast cancer.

Getting a risk assessment to learn your personal risk for breast cancer allows you and your healthcare provider to develop a screening plan to stay ahead of the disease.

Early detection decreases breast cancer mortality. Talk to your doctor about a breast cancer risk assessment. CLICK TO TWEET

Breast self-exam

Knowing how your breasts normally look and feel helps you identify changes and symptoms that could indicate a problem. Self-examination is not an effective breast cancer screening method, however. Breast cancer doesn’t always cause visible symptoms, and you should not rely on self-exams to detect breast cancer.

Get in the habit of doing a self-exam each month; mention any unusual changes in size, shape, or appearance to your doctor.


Mammography is the most effective breast cancer screening tool, and 3D Mammography detects 41% more invasive breast cancers than 2D Mammography. Women at an average risk should begin annual screening mammography beginning at age 40.

Recent research from the University of Michigan has found that every-other-year screening is much less likely to catch cancer in time for treatment than annual screening. Examination of outcomes for several hundred women found that those who waited for two years between mammograms were almost twice as likely to show late-stage cancer. These women required more aggressive treatment than those who had annual screenings.

Who recommends that women begin annual mammograms at 40 years of age?

  • American College of Radiology
  • Society of Breast Imaging
  • American Cancer Society
  • National Cancer Institute
  • American Medical Association
  • The Breast Center


Breast ultrasound is not an effective breast cancer screening tool on its own. However, ultrasound may be recommended in addition to mammography to help detect breast cancers. It’s especially helpful for women with dense breasts.

Breast Ultrasound Screening can detect small breast cancers that mammography might miss in women with dense breasts.

Breast MRI

While breast MRI is not used to screen for cancer in women with average risk, it is the best breast cancer screening tool for women at a high risk of developing the disease.

If you have a lifetime breast cancer risk of 20% or greater, your physician may recommend breast MRI as a screening option.

Women at a high risk for breast cancer

Various factors contribute to a woman’s breast cancer risk. For example, women born with BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations and women who have received high levels of chest radiation are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer. Women at a higher risk should talk to their healthcare provider to discuss breast cancer screening options.

The American College of Radiology and Society of Breast Imaging recommend that women have a risk assessment by age 30.

Learn your personal breast cancer risk. Our Breast Cancer Risk Quiz is a good place to get started. Contact the Breast Center for more information.