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Breast Cancer Screening

Overview

Experts agree that mammograms are the best screening test for people at average risk of breast cancer. Guidelines for when to start having mammograms and how often to have them vary from province to province.

You should discuss the benefits and harms of mammograms with your healthcare provider. They can help you decide when to start and how often to have a mammogram.

For people who are at average risk for breast cancer, the Alberta Breast Cancer Screening Program and the Toward Optimized Practice clinical practice guidelines recommend the following:

  • Ages 40 to 49: Regular mammograms are not recommended. If you are in this age group and would like to start screening, you should talk to your doctor and get a referral for your first mammogram. Yearly breast cancer screening is recommended if you start screening between 40-49 years of age.
  • Ages 50 to 74: Regular mammograms (every 2 years) are recommended. If you are in this age group, you may self-refer for a mammogram.
  • Age 75 and older: You should talk to your doctor about whether you need to continue breast cancer screening.

Screening tests

The screening tests for breast cancer include:

Mammogram.

This is an X-ray of the breast that can often find tumours that are too small for you or your doctor to feel. Most of the ones done today are digital mammograms. They record images of the breast in an electronic file.

3-D mammogram (digital breast tomosynthesis).

Tomosynthesis is a newer form of mammogram that creates a three-dimensional image of the breast.

Clinical breast examination (CBE).

CBE is not a replacement for a mammogram, and may be done as part of a physical examination. During this test, your doctor will carefully feel your breasts and under your arms to check for lumps or other unusual changes. Talk to your doctor about whether to have this test.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) of the breast.

An MRI may be recommended by the doctor for people who have a high risk of breast cancer. This includes anyone who tests positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene and/or have a strong family history of breast cancer.

For more information about where to find a mammography clinic in Alberta, please visit: www.screeningforlife.ca.

References

Citations

  1. Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care (2018). Recommendations on screening for breast cancer in women aged 40–74 years who are not at increased risk for breast cancer. CMAJ, 190(49): E1441–E1451. DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.180463. Accessed December 20, 2018.

Credits

Adaptation Date: 8/18/2021

Adapted By: Alberta Health Services

Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services

Adapted with permission from copyrighted materials from Healthwise, Incorporated (Healthwise). This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty and is not responsible or liable for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.