ZocdocAnswersHow often should women check for breast cancer?

Question

How often should women check for breast cancer?

It seems like there's a lot of contradictory information about how to have a good breast cancer screening program. Can you give me a final answer? How often should I do home exams, clinical exams, and when should I start getting mammograms, and how often should I get them?

Answer

Breast cancer screening is a complex topic which involves health, economic and personal factors. It is best to discuss your questions with your doctor, who can tailor your program based on your personal preferences and risk. The below information is for AVERAGE RISK patients. As for home exams, there is no data that having women do home self exams are helpful in catching cancer. In fact, when studies were done to see how effective it could be, it was found that it actually increases the number of unnecessary biopsies and other studies. While few doctors actively discourage it, it is not commonly recommended. If you notice an abnormality, you should discuss it with your doctor, but doing the home screening is not often recommended. As for clinical exams, again there is no data that they are effective. Most physicians continue to conduct annual breast exams. It is a personal preference as we have not data one way or the other, but many doctor will still do a once yearly exam. As for mammograms, it is a complicated subject with many caveats. In general, starting at age 40 versus 50 is a question. Starting at 40 picks up more cancers, but the cost of picking up those cancers is astronomical and many unnecessary biopsies are done. Therefore, for society in general we recommend starting at 50. As for how often, there is no significant difference in annual vs every other year mammograms. Still, many people prefer the annual. Bottom line: starting at 50 and doing every other year is the US recommendation. Discuss this with your doctor as before starting a screening program it is important to assess your risk for breast cancer. Thousands of studies have been done on the subject so there are many caveats to the above information.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.