The most common screening methods for breast cancer include clinical breast exams (CBE) by a trained medical professional and mammography (breast x-rays). Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasound are additional methods available for use with women at high risk or as additional diagnostic tools when needed.

It is recommended that women with average risk for breast cancer should receive:

  • Yearly mammograms starting at age 40
  • Clinical breast exam (CBE) by a trained medical professional every three years starting at age 20 and every year for women 40 and over.

A medical professional trained in risk assessment can help determine the best screening methods and schedule to employ for women at high risk. These might include earlier initiation of screening methods, screening at shorter intervals, and/or supplementing mammography with ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or molecular breast imaging/gamma specific breast imaging (MBI/GSBI).


  • A mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes (or a first degree relative with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation)
  • A personal history of breast cancer (including ductal carcinoma in situ [DCIS]), lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS), or atypical hyperplasia
  • Strong family history of breast cancer, such as mother and/or sister diagnosed at 40 or younger
  • Radiation treatment to the chest area during childhood or young adulthood
  • A mutation in the TP53 or PTEN genes (or a first-degree relative with a mutation). These gene mutations can lead to Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Cowden syndrome or Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome

Dense breast tissue is more common in pre-menopausal women than in post-menopausal women, and studies suggest that women with dense breast tissue may be six times more likely to develop breast cancer than women with fattier tissue. Mammography is not always effective in detecting breast cancer in women with dense breast tissue. If you have had a mammogram in the past, ask your doctor if you have dense breast tissue, and if so, if supplemental screening with ultrasound is advisable. Learn more at www.areyoudense.org.


Many local health departments, hospitals, and clinics offer programs that can help you get a free mammogram. To find out how to get a low-cost or free mammogram or to find a certified radiologist in your area, call Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s® Breast Care Helpline at 1.800.462.9273.

The National Breast Cancer and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program also helps women in underserved populations find free mammography and PAP screening. Visit www.cdc.gov/cancer/nbccedp.


In 2009, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) used data from previous studies to issue controversial new screening guidelines that included changing the age at which women at average risk for breast cancer should begin screening mammograms from 40 to 50 and changing the frequency from annually to every two years. Their guidelines were seen as a huge step backwards for women’s breast health and were opposed by most of the leading breast cancer organizations.

While mammography is not a perfect screening tool, it is the most effective one currently available, and statistically, it has been shown to save lives, even in women age 40 to 50 who have a lower risk of breast cancer than women over 50 years of age. The use of mammography in the 40 to 50 year old age group, however, does result in a higher number of women enduring biopsies to ultimately determine they don’t have breast cancer.

That said, the breast cancers of many of the women of Beyond Boobs!® would not have been discovered in the early stages if the USPSTF guidelines had been in place, so we believe the benefits outweigh the risks and highly encourage you to consider the Komen screening guidelines provided on this page. If you are hesitant, please discuss your concerns with a medical professional knowledgeable about breast cancer to help you evaluate the risks versus the benefits and decide the best course of action for you.


Why should I do breast self-examinations (BSEs)?

Because they could save your life! Early detection of breast cancer is indisputably linked to long-term survival, so you want to monitor your breast health. While there’s debate over the value of BSEs as a screening tool (research suggests that BSEs used alone do not decrease mortality rates), WE BELIEVE IN THEM – especially for young women whose access to other screening methods is limited. What is not debatable is that regular BSEs will get you really chummy with your breasts, which will help you know how they normally look and feel and enable you to detect changes! As we like to say, “if your’re old enough to have’em, you’re old enough to check’em.” Many of our young women found their lumps themselves – perhaps years earlier than if they had to wait for regularly scheduled checkups or their first mammogram! And BSEs are non-invasive and free. Just remember, if you are of age to get other detection screenings, BSEs should be an addition to, not a substitute for, those.

How often should I do my BSE?

Do them once a month. Less frequently isn’t often enough and more frequently make keep you from detecting subtle changes.

When should I do my BST?

Schedule your BSE at the end of your period when your breasts are least likely to be tender. If periods are a thing of the past (Hallelujah!), just pick a day, and do it on the same date every month. We provide Pink Happy Face stickers in our “A Calendar to Live By” (see Retail Therapy) to “make a date” with your breasts!

How do I know if I’m doing it the right way?

Practice makes perfect. The important thing is to make checking your breasts on a regular basis a habit. As you become more comfortable “checking out” your own beautiful body, familiarity with your breasts will alert you to even subtle changes. If you find a lump, do see a medical professional promptly, but don’t panic (seriously!) – 8 out of 10 lumps are NOT cancer!

May I enlist help to do my BSEs?

Absolutely! That’s another way our young women have found their lumps. Appoint that special person in your life your “Early Detector Inspector.” Then make it official with an “Early Detector Inspector” t-shirt (black, white, or grey) from our Retail Therapy Store at www.beyondboobs.org.

Text the word PINK to 59227, and
Bright Pink will send you a monthly
text message reminding you to do your BSE.


Susan G. Komen for the Cure® provides the following guidance:

Step 1: Look for Changes – In front of the mirror
(While here, remind yourself how beautiful and special you are!)

  • Hold your arms at your side
  • Hold your arms over your head
  • Press your hands on your hips and tighten your chest muscles
  • Bend forward with your hands on your hips

Step 2: Feel for Changes – Lying down

  • Lie down on your back with a pillow under your right shoulder
  • Use the pads of the three middle fingers on your left hand to check your right breast
  • Press using light, medium, and firm pressure in a circle without lifting your fingers off the skin
  • Follow an up and down pattern
  • Feel for changes in your breast, above and below your collarbone, and in your armpit
  • Repeat on your left breast using your right hand (remember to move the pillow)
  • Step 2 can be repeated while bathing or showering using soapy hands.

See your doctor or nurse if you notice the breast changes listed below (or any others that aren’t listed):

  • Lump, hard knot, or thickening
  • Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
  • Pulling in of your nipple or other parts
  • Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
  • New pain in one spot that does not go away
  • If you’re still unsure how to do a BSE, go to www.komen.org to view their interactive breast self-awareness tool.
Learn the disco steps to early detection!
Visit www.beyondboobs.org to watch
“The Self-Exama,” our fun and funky line dance
for “Stayin’ Alive” (with thanks to the Bee Gees).