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Breast Cancer Screening

Women between the ages of 20 and 39 who have no symptoms of breast disease should have a clinical breast examination every 3 years. A physician, a nurse practitioner, a nurse, or a physician assistant can perform this examination. The health care professional will examine both breasts for discrepancies in size or shape. The examiner will also palpate (feel) each breast to detect any lumps or masses. The area under both arms will be examined as well, to check for enlargement of lymph nodes.


A mammogram is a x-ray examination of the breasts, used to detect and diagnose breast diseases. Mammography is the most effective method of detecting cancer at an early stage, before the woman or a physician can feel it.

Screening mammography is used as a preventive measure for women who have no symptoms of breast disease. A screening mammogram usually involves two views of each breast. The American Cancer Society recommends that all women aged 40 and over have a screening mammogram every year as part of a breast health program, which also includes an annual breast examination by a healthcare professional.

Diagnostic mammography involves additional views of the breast, and is used when an abnormality is found during screening, or in women who have breast complaints, such as a breast mass, nipple discharge, breast pain, or skin irritation.

Preparing for a Mammogram

There are a number of steps a woman can take to prepare for a mammogram:

  • If you have had mammograms or other breast procedures performed at another facility, bring a list of places and dates of procedures. If possible, bring previous mammography films with you, or have them forwarded to the facility before your visit.
  • You will need to undress above the waist, so wear a two-piece outfit with a pullover top or a blouse that buttons in the front. Avoid wearing bulky jewelry that will have to be removed during the procedure.
  • Do not wear deodorant, powder, or cream under your arms. These products could interfere with the quality of the mammogram.
  • Schedule your appointment at the time of month when your breasts are the least tender. In general, the week after a period is when breasts are less tender, and the week before or during a period is when the breasts are most tender.