A Complete Guide to Breast Cancer Screening
Formal breast self-exams are optional, but since 80% of cancers not spotted on mammography are found by women themselves, experts do endorse being familiar with your breasts. That just means regularly feeling them when you're bathing or getting dressed.
"Most of the time, women don't find tumors during a self-exam, but when they roll over in bed or soap up in the shower," says breast surgeon Susan Love, MD, medical director of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation. If you feel something odd, call your doc.
Although the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended in 2009 that women start getting these at age 50 and every other year thereafter, the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists say to start at 40 and go yearly.
What's best for you? Talk to your OB/GYN, who'll help you decide based on your own personal risk factors. If you have a significant family history of breast cancer, you'll need to get one 10 years before the age a first-degree relative (like your mom) was diagnosed.
You can opt to get one with your yearly mammo if you have "dense" breasts, which are harder to read on a mammogram, or if you have fibrocystic breasts—the radiologist who reads your next mammogram can tell you if either applies to you, says Sharon Rosenbaum Smith, MD, a breast surgeon at St. Luke's Hospital in New York City.
Unfortunately, the cost (about $350) may not always be picked up by insurance.
MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
If you're considered high risk—say you have mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes—you may want to get one every year along with your mammogram.
An MRI is more sensitive at picking up cancers than a mammogram or ultrasound, but it also has a high rate of false positives, which is why it's only recommended for women at high risk, Dr. Rosenbaum Smith says. If you've got a family history of breast cancer, talk to your doctor about whether you're a candidate.