With Breast Cancer in the News – A Brief Primer on Screening and Prevention

by Katy Henke

Breast cancer is back in the headlines this week with the announcement by U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (Missouri) that she has been diagnosed with the disease following a routine mammogram.

Because such news coverage can raise questions about current breast cancer screening guidelines and the steps women can take to prevent the disease, we offer this quick primer.  


Breast cancer screening with mammography remains the single best way to protect yourself from the disease. Mammograms do not help prevent cancer, but they can help find cancer early, when it’s most treatable.

For most women, regular mammograms can begin at age 40, but specific recommendations vary by age:

If you are age 40 – 44:
You can choose to begin yearly mammograms. It is important to talk to a doctor about the risk and benefits of mammograms at these ages. 

If you are age 45 – 54:
Mammograms are recommended every year. 
If you are age 55 or over:
Mammograms are recommended every other year. You can choose to continue to have them every year.
Clinical breast exams and self-exams are not recommended. Be familiar with your breasts and tell a health care provider right away if you notice any changes in how your breasts look or feel.

Learn more about the new mammography guidelines from the American Cancer Society.


In addition to getting recommended mammograms, women can also take steps to lower the risk of breast cancer. Some of these steps include being active, staying at a healthy weight, not smoking, and avoiding too much alcohol (see figure). While such healthy behaviors have the biggest impact when started earlier in life, they can have important breast health benefits for women of all ages.

Information for taking steps to improve breast health and lower cancer risk at nearly any age can be found in the free ebook, Together – Every Woman’s Guide to Preventing Breast Cancer.

For additional tips on lowering your risk of breast cancer, see the personalized prevention tool Your Disease Risk and the site 8IGHT WAYS to Prevent Breast Cancer

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