Screening Tests for Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is one of the most common pathologies of the 21st century but a timely diagnosis can save your life. Find out which are the most important screening tests for it.
Screening Tests for Breast Cancer

Last update: 12 June, 2020

Are screening tests for breast cancer important? Firstly, it’s important to point out that the Global Cancer Observatory (GCO) registered a total of more than 2 million new cases of breast cancer worldwide in 2018.

In the same year, GCO recorded more than 600,000 deaths from breast cancer. Also, according to data, breast cancer is in second place for new cancer cases and in sixth place for causes of death.

The good news is there are many available screening tests and these play a fundamental role in the prognosis of this disease. Usually, their purpose is to detect tumors at an early stage with the lowest possible risk to a person’s health.

Screening tests for breast cancer

Information published through the National Cancer Institute indicates that breast cancer screening tests are mainly for those women with a family history of the disease or other significant risk factors. Continue reading to find out what the most frequent ones are.


This is a type of diagnostic imaging that uses x-rays to detect changes caused by cancer within the breast tissue. In addition, women undergo this test as an early detection measure for lesions that are typical of malignant cancer.

Most doctors recommend that all women undergo their first mammogram between the age of 30 and 35, and then continue with an annual mammogram after 45 years of age. However, most women think the process of having a mammogram is quite uncomfortable.

Still, you must keep in mind that a mammogram only takes a few minutes and the discomfort is only momentary. This is a small price to pay for the early detection of a disease such as cancer.

A lab technician screening for breast cancer.
Many describe mammography as an annoying procedure. However, it takes only a few minutes and the discomfort is momentary.


This is a type of diagnostic image that uses sound waves to visualize changes in the breast tissue. It’s very useful for observing palpable masses that a doctor can’t see through mammography.

Thus, this diagnostic image is widely used to guide them during biopsies. In addition, they use the latter to obtain cells from the lesion and find out if there’s cancer. Finally, sonomammography is completely painless and only takes a few minutes to complete.

Breast biopsy

Firstly, understand that the term breast biopsy encompasses a group of procedures intended to remove tissue from the affected breast. Then, they subject the removed tissue to other tests that can detect cancer.

When we talk about breast biopsy, we’re talking about needle biopsies or surgery. During needle biopsies, the doctor uses a hollow needle to remove tissue fragments from the suspected cancer-containing area. In the case of surgery, the doctor removes a section or all suspicious tissue from an affected breast.

Three people in a lab.
A biopsy is the removal of tissue from an affected breast.

Magnetic resonance

An MRI uses powerful magnets and radio waves to produce highly detailed images of breast tissue. It can take pictures from many angles and provide images of soft tissue that would sometimes be difficult to see when using other imaging studies.

It’s a complementary study to mammography and sonomammography, used to study the tissue in more detail in the cases that require it. This is due to its high cost and increased risk of false-positives for suspicious images. An MRI is completely painless and doesn’t emit radiation to the body.

Things to keep in mind about breast cancer screening tests

So, there are several tests that can detect breast cancer in an early and timely manner. Mammography is the most widely used today and, as we said above, it consists of the use of x-rays to try to detect changes in the breast tissue. So, you must have a mammogram every year after 45 years of age.

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    • Bray, F., Ferlay, J., Soerjomataram, I., Siegel, R. L., Torre, L. A., & Jemal, A. (2018). Global cancer statistics 2018: GLOBOCAN estimates of incidence and mortality worldwide for 36 cancers in 185 countries. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 68(6), 394–424.
    • National Cancer Institute. (2017). Breast Cancer Screening (PDQ®): Patient Version.
    • NIH. (2010). Breast Cancer Screening ( PDQ ® ) Health Professional Version. Retrieved from