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Q&A: Breast Cancer Screening

Answers and insights from The Portland Clinic team

According to Breastcancer.org, one out of eight women in the Rose City may develop an invasive breast cancer in their lifetime. Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women after skin cancer, but if found and treated in early stages, there is hope for remission.

It is essential to find breast cancer as early as possible to help ensure treatment will be effective. Breast cancers that are found because they can be felt, tend to be larger and are more likely to have already spread outside the breast, according to the American Cancer Society. Screening exams can often find breast cancers when they are small and still located solely within the breast.

Here are some helpful answers to frequently asked questions about breast cancer screening. If you are concerned about your health, or if you have any questions regarding breast cancer, please call 503-223-3113 for more information. (Please note, doctors and nurses at The Portland Clinic cannot provide medical advice to non-patients.)

Q: WHEN SHOULD I START HAVING MAMMOGRAMS, AND HOW OFTEN SHOULD I HAVE THEM?

Expert organizations vary in their recommendations. Here are the age-based guidelines recommended by The Portland Clinic to help you decide when and how often to be screened for breast cancer:

Ages 40-49: Starting regular mammogram screening between these ages is recommended, but whether you start closer to 40 or 49 is a decision that you should make with your health-care provider.

Ages 50-74: We recommend that you have a mammogram every 1-2 years between 50 and 74; your doctor can help you decide whether yearly or every other year is right for you.

Age 75+: Whether to continue getting regular mammograms after age 75 is an individual choice that depends on your overall health, your individual risk of breast cancer and your personal preferences. Your health care provider can provide guidance to help you decide what’s right for you.

Q: WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW TO HELP ME DECIDE?

There are several important considerations to keep in mind when making decisions about when and how often to have mammograms:

  • Do you have dense breasts? If you do, it can affect your breast cancer risk. Having a baseline mammogram at age 40 can help you find out.
  • What are your personal breast cancer risks? Make sure you understand your family history of breast cancer and other factors that could increase your risk. The National Cancer Institute website provides a simple tool you can use to estimate your risk of developing breast cancer — find it at www.cancer.gov/bcrisktool.
  • What are the pros and cons of mammograms? Talk to your doctor about the benefits and potential harms of screening mammography, and weigh these pros and cons as you consider your decision.
  • Have you talked it over with your doctor? Whether you’re unsure of some of these issues or you just want a trusted expert opinion, it’s always a good idea to talk it over with your health-care provider.

Q: ARE BREAST SELF-EXAMS STILL RECOMMENDED?

Many organizations have stopped recommending breast self-exams because research has not shown a clear benefit. However, the American Cancer Society still says that all women should be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel, and should report any changes to their doctor right away.

Q: SHOULD I WAIT UNTIL MY NEXT SCREENING TO BRING UP ANY PROBLEMS?

No. If you experience any breast problems or changes, don’t wait for your next screening exam to bring it up. Contact your health-care provider right away.