What You Should Know about Breast Cancer and Women’s Preventive Screenings

What You Should Know about Breast Cancer and Women’s Preventive Screenings

Breast cancer is the number two cause of cancer deaths among women in the U.S. Screening is the primary way to detect breast cancer.

Preventive care could save your life. Screening for breast cancer can help detect the disease in its early stages, when it’s easier to treat.  While all groups recommend and agree on the importance of breast cancer screening in general, some recommend to begin screening at different ages. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says women at average risk for breast cancer (e.g. no previous breast cancer history, certain family or genetic risk factors, etc) should start regular screenings at age 50 and repeat the test every two years. Other groups suggest other beginning standard screenings as early as 40 years of age for women of average risk, or women with no family history of breast cancer.  Bear in mind that there may be some changes to these general recommendations based upon your own personal risk factors, which your doctor may ask and screen for during routine wellness check-up. It can get confusing, but screenings are important, so it’s best to establish a healthy relationship with your doctor and identify the right guidelines for your age, lifestyle and medical situation.

Higher Risk and/or Women in their 40's 

Talk to your doctor about when you should start having breast cancer screenings. Together you can decide what's best for you based on your risk level. Here are a few talking points to bring up at your appointment:

  • Your risk of breast cancer
  • The benefits of mammograms to help find breast cancer early
  • Risks and limits of mammograms, which may show tissue that doesn’t look normal but turns out to be normal.
  • The role of breast self-exams in helping you become more familiar with your breasts, which may help you find abnormalities or changes
  • Your family history
  • The role of a clinical breast exam by your doctor 
Women  in their 50's or older 

For women ages 50 to 74, talk with your doctor about getting mammograms every 2 years. Based on your risk level, you may choose to get them more often. An open communication with your doctor can help you decide what’s best for you.

Well-woman visit

You should also think about a yearly well-woman visit with a doctor or nurse practitioner . The well-woman visit can go a long way to help you stay healthy. All Health Insurance Marketplace health plans and many other plans must cover the yearly health exam for women without charging you a copayment or coinsurance at an in-network provider. This is true even if you haven’t met your yearly deductible.

Well-woman visits involve a full health exam, apart from any other visit for sickness or injury. These visits focus on preventive care for women, which may include:

  • Services, like vaccinations, that help your health by preventing diseases and other health problems
  • Screening and testing to check for early signs of diseases, when they may be simpler to treat, including not only breast cancer screening, but also cervical and colorectal cancer, high blood pressure and cholesterol, bone mineral testing, and others
  • Education and counseling 
Cancer screening

As with the well-woman visits, all Marketplace plans and many other plans will cover these cancer screening services without charging you a copayment or coinsurance at an in-network provider, whether or not you’ve met your yearly deductible.

  • Breast cancer Genetic Test Counseling (BRCA) for BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations to learn the benefits and risks of genetic testing
  • Breast cancer Chemoprevention counseling to see if chemoprevention drugs will lower your chance of getting breast cancer
  • Pap tests to screen for cervical cancer
  • Colorectal cancer screening for colon or rectum cancer

Your life isn’t worth the risk of not getting screened. Are you up-to-date on proper preventive care?

Sources:  Breast Cancer: Medication Use to Reduce Risk  U.S. Preventive Services Task Force;  What Is Breast Cancer Screening? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Breast Cancer American Cancer Society;  Mammogram guidelines: What are they?  Mayo Clinic

Originally published October 6, 2014; Revised 2019