We recommend getting routine breast screening exams such as mammograms, even if you and your loved ones are not showing any signs of disease. Many breast cancers are discovered through these screenings. Research shows that early detection improves the overall success of the treatment and outcome of the patient.

According to the American Cancer Society, all women should begin having yearly mammograms by age 45. At age 55, women can have mammograms every other year. Women can choose to start screening with yearly mammograms as early as age 40. Ask your doctor when you should start getting screened for breast cancer. Some women may need earlier or more frequent screening if they are at above-average risk for breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Risk Factors

  • A family history of breast cancer, especially within your immediate family or if several of your family members have a history of breast cancer
  • Genetic mutations that increase risk such ask BRCA 1, BRCA 2, PALB 2 and others
  • Atypical hyperplasia (a type of benign breast disease) or lobular carcinoma in situ (abnormal cells in the lobule)
  • Treatment with mantle radiation (a therapy used for Hodgkin’s disease and some other medical conditions) before age 32


If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, please see your doctor right away:

  • A lump or thickness in or near the breast or under the arm
  • Swelling or shrinking of the breast, mainly on one side only
  • Dimpling, puckering or lumpiness of the breast
  • Nipple discharge (fluid) other than breast milk that occurs without squeezing the nipple
  • Breast skin changes, such as redness, flaking, thickening or pitting that looks like the skin of an orange
  • A nipple that becomes sunken (inverted), red, thick or scaly

Mammograms and Other Diagnostic Tests

Mammography is a safe and effective low-dose X-ray of the breast used to help diagnose breast diseases and abnormalities. The major advantage of mammography is it can identify problems at a very early and treatable stage. Breast cancer, for example, can be discovered as early as two years before it is evident during a physical examination.

Before calling to make an appointment, please request a doctor's order from your primary care physician, gynecologist or other women's health provider.

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Ultrasound uses high frequency sound waves to visualize breast cysts, solid nodules or lymph nodes. The resulting image is referred to as a sonogram. Breast ultrasound does not use X-rays.

Learn more about breast ultrasound

Biopsy involves removing tissue from the breast for further evaluation. A physician requests a biopsy to obtain the most detailed and accurate information possible about your breast tissue. Having a biopsy does not mean you have breast cancer.

Needle Biopsy

Most breast biopsies today are minimally-invasive procedures with a minimum of discomfort and recovery time. A special hollow needle is used to withdraw a small tissue sample from an abnormal mass or lump in the breast. The breast is first cleansed and then numbed with a local anesthetic. A specially trained clinician views live-time images of your breast on digital mammography or ultrasound equipment to precisely locate the lump or tissue to be biopsied. The tissue sample is drawn up into the needle and removed. No stitches are required.

The tissue sample is sent to a laboratory for testing. Ask your physician how soon the test results will be available to you.

Stereotactic Biopsy

Stereotactic breast biopsy is another version of minimally invasive breast biopsy. It is an excellent choice for diagnosing suspicious areas identified by a mammogram that are not palpable with the fingertips. 

Surgical Biopsy

In some cases, a physician may need to perform a surgical biopsy with a local or general anesthetic. The physician makes an incision and removes the tumor or tissue from the breast that requires further study. Stitches and a longer recovery time may be needed.

Learn more about biopsy from our online health library:

BSE is not a replacement for a mammogram and physician's exam, but regularly practiced self-exams allow a woman to become familiar with the texture of her breasts and make it easier to detect changes.