Screening tests are used to find breast cancer before it causes any warning signs or symptoms. Screening tests can find breast cancer early, when the chances of survival are highest.
Regular screening tests (along with follow-up tests and treatment if diagnosed) reduce your chance of dying from breast cancer.
Breast cancer screening tests include clinical breast exam and mammography. For some women at higher risk of breast cancer, breast MRI may also be used.
Sometimes a screening test finds something abnormal and follow-up is needed. It’s important to get follow-up without delay. If breast cancer is found, it’s best to be diagnosed and treated at the earliest possible stage.
Clinical Breast Exam: A physical exam done by a health care provider as part of your regular medical check-up.
Mammography: A screening tool that uses X-rays to create images of the breast. Overall, mammography is the most effective screening tool used today to find breast cancer in most women. It may also be used as a follow-up test on an abnormal finding (called a diagnostic mammogram).
Breast MRI: A tool that uses magnetic fields to create images of the breast. It's used in breast cancer screening for some women at higher risk. It may also be used as a follow-up test after an abnormal finding or for staging breast cancer.
Follow-up after an abnormal finding on a screening test may include a diagnostic mammogram, a breast MRI and/or a breast ultrasound. It’s important to get follow-up without delay.
Although these follow-up tests may be called “diagnostic tools” and may be able to rule out breast cancer, they cannot diagnose breast cancer.
Learn about follow-up after an abnormal finding on a clinical breast exam.
Learn about follow-up after an abnormal finding on a mammogram.
A biopsy (needle or surgical) is needed to diagnose breast cancer. (A biopsy is not a screening test.)
A biopsy removes cells or tissue from a suspicious area of the breast. The cells or tissue are studied under a microscope to see if cancer is present.
It’s important to get a biopsy done (without delay) so if breast cancer is diagnosed, it can be treated at the earliest possible stage.
Learn more about biopsies and breast cancer diagnosis.
Facts for Life: Breast Imaging Methods
Facts for Life: Mammography