What to know about breast cancer screenings

Like most illnesses, cancer is best treated when it’s caught early. That’s why screening recommendations are in place.

The United States Preventive Task Force (USPSTF) recommends women get screened regularly for breast cancer starting at 40 years old, with their healthcare provider’s guidance.

The USPSTF also recommend:

  • Women 40 to 49 years old should talk to their doctor or other healthcare professional about when to start and how often to get a mammogram.
  • Women who are 50 to 74 years old and are at average risk for breast cancer should get a mammogram every year, or every other, depending on their healthcare provider’s recommendation.
  • All women should weigh the benefits and risks of screening tests when deciding whether to begin getting mammograms at age 40 or earlier.

Screening can help find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat.

“Screening” means checking a woman’s breasts for cancer before there are signs or symptoms of the disease present. All women need to be informed by their healthcare provider about the best screening options for them.

Talking with your healthcare provider about the benefits and risks of screening is important. This “informed and shared decision making” can help you feel confident about your health decisions.

Breast cancer screening cannot prevent breast cancer, but it does help find it early. Cancers are easier to treat when caught early.

There are different breast cancer screening options.


A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. At this time, they are the best way to find breast cancer early. Mammograms can find cancer before it’s big enough to feel or cause symptoms. Having regular mammograms can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer.

Breast magnetic resonance imaging

A breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) screening uses magnets and radio waves to take pictures of the breast. MRI is used along with mammograms to screen women who are at high risk for getting breast cancer. Because breast MRIs may appear abnormal even when there is no cancer, they are not used for women at average risk.

Clinical breast exam

A clinical breast exam is performed by a doctor or nurse, who uses his or her hands to feel for lumps or other changes.

Become familiar with how your breasts normally look and feel.

Though self-breast exams are not the most accurate option for breast cancer screenings, they are important. They are especially helpful between screenings, or if you’re not yet 40 and getting screenings regularly. When you become more familiar with your breasts, you’re more likely to notice changes that could be symptoms. If you notice lumps, pain, or changes in size, report them to your doctor or healthcare provider, who can do a more thorough screening.

Where to go for breast cancer screenings

Fortunately, there are many places to get screened for breast cancer. You can go to a clinic, hospital, or healthcare provider’s office. Start by talking to your primary care provider (PCP). (If you’re a Capital Blue Cross member and do not yet have a PCP, use MyCare Finder to find one in-network and local to you). Once you meet with them and determine when you should be screened, they can help you schedule an appointment.

Most health insurance plans are required to cover mammograms every one to two years for women beginning at age 40 with no out-of-pocket cost. That means no copay, deductible, or coinsurance. Your provider can help you determine your coverage, or you can call the number on the back of your member ID card.

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Source: “What Is Breast Cancer Screening?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The information provided is meant for a general audience. Capital Blue Cross and its affiliated companies believe this health education resource provides useful information but does not assume any liability associated with its use.