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Ask a Devoted Doctor: Breast Cancer Screening

Get answers to common questions about screenings for breast cancer

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In this series, Dr. Lindsay Carter answers your questions on a range of topics. This information doesn’t replace health advice from your doctor. 

Q: How and when do I need to get screened for breast cancer?

How to get screened for breast cancer
For most women, the best breast cancer screening is a mammogram. A mammogram is a special X-ray picture of your breasts, and it’s the best test to find breast cancer early. 

When you get a mammogram, you’ll stand in front of the special X-ray machine, and a technician will place one of your breasts between 2 plastic plates to get the picture. This happens a few times to get different views of each breast. It can be uncomfortable, but it’s over in just a few moments, and it could save your life! 

Women who are at high risk of breast cancer because of personal or family health history may also need another type of test, called a breast MRI. Talk to your doctor about what’s right for you.

When to get screened for breast cancer
There are different recommendations on when to start getting mammograms and how often to get them. Experts recommend that most women start getting mammograms when they are between 40 and 50 years old and continue to get them every 1 or 2 years. 

How do you know what’s right for you? Talk to your doctor about:

  • Your risk. It’s important to tell your doctor about things that may raise your risk of breast cancer — like if you or anyone in your family has had cancer (especially breast cancer), or if you’ve had a breast disease other than cancer. 
  • Your preferences. If you test more often, it can help to find breast cancer early, but you’re also more likely to get a “false positive” — where the mammogram finds something that turns out not to be cancer. That can lead to extra worry and extra testing, so if you’re at average risk, you may prefer not to get a mammogram every year. 

Learn more about breast cancer screening recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Q: My doctor mentioned getting a 3D mammogram. What is that?

A: A 3D mammogram is very similar to a traditional 2D mammogram. It works basically the same way, but the machine can take extra X-ray pictures at different angles to create a 3-dimensional picture of the breast tissue. 

Some experts think 3D mammograms might be a bit better at finding breast cancer, but both types work well. 3D mammograms are now available in many places and your Devoted Health plan covers them just like regular 2D mammograms. If you have any questions about which type is best for you, talk with your doctor.

Q: Can I do anything to lower my risk of breast cancer?

A: Yes! Some things that raise your risk of breast cancer, like getting older or being a woman, you can’t control. But there are steps you can take to lower your risk:

  • Get active! People who are less active are more likely to develop breast cancer. Whether it’s adding a walk to your morning routine or using your plan’s SilverSneakers® benefit to take an online fitness class, any movement is good for the body.
  • Keep a healthy weight. People who are overweight or obese may be more likely to develop breast cancer. If weight loss is a goal for you, your doctor can help you make a plan to lose weight in a healthy way. 
  • Cut back on alcohol. Drinking alcohol — especially in large amounts — can raise your risk of breast cancer. If you drink, try to limit yourself to 1 drink a day or less. 

If you’re at higher risk for breast cancer or other cancers — for example, because you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer or you have a BRCA gene mutation — there may be extra steps you can take to lower your risk. Talk with your doctor about what extra steps may be right for you.