Questions to ask your doctor about breast cancer screening

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Photo of care team.jpg

As the nation recognizes October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reminds women that regular screening mammograms are critical in detecting breast cancer early. If breast cancer is found early, there are more treatment options and a better chance of survival. Breast cancer remains the second-leading cause of cancer-related death among Maine women.

Discuss with your primary care doctor or OB/GYN whether an annual mammogram is right for you. Questions to ask your doctor about screening:

  • Which screening tests are right for me?
  • What are the benefits of screening?
  • Do I have a higher risk of cancer?

Additional questions about breast cancer can be found at cancer.og/cancer/breast-cancer.

There are different diagnostic tools for diagnosing and evaluating breast cancer. Mammograms are the standard care for early breast cancer detection. They are the best tool for finding breast cancer early. Early breast cancer detection is key to breast cancer treatment. The risk of getting female breast cancer increases as women age. Beginning at age 40 years, women are encouraged to discuss their family and medical history with their health care provider to determine when screening should start. Women age 50-74 years are recommended to have a screening mammogram every other year. Not all breast cancer can be felt as a lump on a breast exam, which is why regular testing is important. A screening mammogram can detect breast cancer before it is big enough to cause symptoms.

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Learn more about your screening options for breast care at

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How do you know if you are at high risk for breast cancer?

Most women are not at high risk for breast cancer. Lifestyle, age, genetics, and high breast density are a few of the factors for determining high risk, along with having a family history of breast cancer. If anyone in your family has had cancer, your doctor can help you figure out how much that affects your chances of getting breast cancer yourself.

Your risk depends on what kind of family history you have. For example, having one relative with breast cancer gives you a family history. But if you have other close relatives—like your mother and your sister—with breast cancer and one of them was diagnosed before age 50, your family history is stronger, and your risk of getting breast cancer is higher.

A few women are at very high risk because they have inherited a gene change that makes them very likely to get breast cancer. The only way to find this out is to have a breast cancer gene test. The test looks for changes, or mutations, in genes that are related to breast and other cancers. To understand the effect that a family history of breast cancer can have on your chances of getting the disease, consider the numbers below. It's important to remember that everyone's case is different and that these numbers may not show what will happen in your case.

Sometimes women think that their risk is higher than it really is. That's why it's very important to know how high your personal risk for breast cancer is. All women should have regular checkups and tests for breast cancer. But if you are at high risk, you may need to do this more often. You may also need to start younger, or have additional screening tests. The goal is to find breast cancer as early as possible so that it can be treated. Talk with your doctor about the screening tests and schedules that would be best for you.

To read more stories and advice from MaineHealth Cancer Care Network, visit