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.
Sometimes a screening test finds something abnormal and follow-up is needed. It’s important to get follow-up without delay.
Mammography: A screening tool that uses X-rays to create images of the breast. 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 (called a diagnostic mammogram) after an abnormal finding on a clinical breast exam or a mammogram.
Clinical Breast Exam: A physical exam done by a health care provider as part of your regular medical check-up.
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 high risk.
For a summary of research studies on mammography in women ages 40-49, visit the Breast Cancer Research Studies section.
For a summary of research studies on 3D mammography for breast cancer screening, visit the Breast Cancer Research Studies section.
For a summary of research studies on breast MRI plus mammography versus mammography alone for women at higher than average risk of breast cancer, visit the Breast Cancer Research Studies section.
If you have an abnormal finding on a screening test, 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, when chances of survival are highest.
Follow-up tests include:
Although these tests may be called “diagnostic tools” and may be able to rule out breast cancer, they cannot diagnose breast cancer. Only a biopsy can diagnose breast cancer. (A biopsy is not a screening test.)
Learn about follow-up after an abnormal finding on a mammogram.
Learn about follow-up after an abnormal finding on a clinical breast exam.
A biopsy is needed to diagnose breast cancer. 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 without delay. That way, if you have breast cancer, it can be treated as soon as possible.
Learn more about biopsies and breast cancer diagnosis.
Facts for Life: Breast Cancer Screening and Follow-Up Tests