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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 Clinical Practice Guidelines recommend the following:

  • Ages 40 to 44: 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 40-44 years of age.
  • Ages 45 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.

3D mammogram (digital breast tomosynthesis).

Tomosynthesis is a newer form of mammogram that creates a 3-dimensional image of the breast.

Clinical breast exam (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.

Breast awareness
Breast awareness is the practice of becoming familiar with your breasts. If you notice any changes in your breasts or you have concerns, talk to your healthcare provider right away.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) of the breast.

A standard MRI may be recommended by the doctor if you have a high risk of breast cancer. This includes testing positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene and/or having a strong family history of breast cancer.

Abbreviated breast MRI.

An abbreviated breast MRI is a newer test that takes less time than a standard breast MRI. (You might hear it called a "fast MRI.")

Some tests may not be covered by your provincial health plan or private health insurance. Some tests may not be available in all areas.

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: 10/10/2023

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.