3 Breast Cancer Screening Tests You Should Know About

Breast cancer screening means checking breast tissue for cancer before there are signs or symptoms of the disease.

When you are looking for breast cancer screening tests, it’s important to know that there is more than just a mammogram. There are also non-harmful, non-radioactive, non-carcinogenic options, but the reality is insurance companies force you to go through a significant amount of checks and balances to get the type of testing best fit for you. It is important to have a physician who advocates for you.

The initial diagnosis of breast cancer may come from self-examination, or the physician’s clinical breast exam, but the following three screening methods help in the actual diagnosis and progression of cancer.

Breast cancer screening: 3 methods to detect cancer


This is an x-ray of the breast that uses a very low dose of radiation, allowing the physician to see tissues within the breast.

During this screening test, one breast at a time is briefly compressed or squeezed between two  plates attached to the mammogram machine.  Although often uncomfortable, mammograms only take a few minutes to complete.

Mammography is performed to screen women to detect early breast cancer when it is more likely to be cured, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) says that mass screening mammography will detect occult cancers in two to seven of every 1000 women screened. This simple procedure can reveal cancerous growths that are too small to feel or pick up during a self or clinical breast exam.

The NIH suggests that women ages 50 to 74 who are at average risk for getting the disease undergo a routine screening mammogram every two years, though It’s important to consult your doctor about the cumulative exposure over the years to radiations that turns into its own cancer risk over time.

Ultrasound or sonogram

A breast ultrasound, also known as a sonogram, utilizes inaudible sound waves to create images that show whether a breast lump is solid, filled with fluid (a cyst), or a mixture of both.  Cysts usually are not cancer.

This breast cancer screening test lasts approximately 30 minutes, is painless and does not expose patients to radiation.

When a handheld transducer is used, ultrasound is also dependent on the skill and experience of the person doing the scan.

The NIH has found breast density is an increasingly pertinent issue in breast cancer diagnosis. Breast density results in a decrease in the sensitivity of mammography for cancer detection, with a significant increase in the risk of breast cancer. Ultrasounds therefore can lead to the detection of unseen cancers in mammograms.

A new phase of the Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Program (BCERP), focused on prevention, is expanding the study of risk factors such as breast density.

A study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information concluded that women with dense breasts may benefit from the use of ultrasound.


Magnet Resonance Imaging (MRI) 

An MRI uses magnetic fields and radio frequency coils. MRIs do not use x-ray or radiation.

Currently, an MRI is used to further assess a suspicious area, since this screening test is more than 10 times as expensive as a mammogram. Despite the higher costs, more and more women are questioning why it is not used as a routine screening procedure along with ultrasounds as a less-uncomfortable alternative to mammograms.   

NCCN guidelines state MRIs may be more accurate than mammography in the early detection of malignant breast tumors in women with a hereditary risk of developing breast cancer. It is also used for women who have implants that need to be checked for possible leakage.

Though painless, MRI scans can take a long time—often up to an hour. For a breast MRI, you have to lie inside a narrow tube, face down, completely motionless on a platform specially designed for the procedure, which for some causes anxiety.

The American Cancer Society also notes It also has a high false positive rate. This means that it may incorrectly identify breast lesions as being a cancer 20-50% of the time when they are not.