Get Tested for Breast Cancer

The Basics

The Basics: Overview

Breast cancer is one of the most common kinds of cancer in women. About 1 in 8 women born today in the United States will get breast cancer sometime during her life. 

The good news is that mammograms can help find breast cancer early. Most women can survive breast cancer if it’s found and treated early.

How often should I get mammograms?

  • Women ages 40 to 49
    Talk with your doctor about when to start getting mammograms and how often to get them.

  • Women ages 50 to 74
    Get mammograms every 2 years. Talk with your doctor to decide if you need them more often.

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is an x-ray picture of the breast. Mammograms use a very low level of x-rays, which are a type of radiation. Mammograms are very safe.

Mammograms can be used to screen (test) for breast cancer in women with no signs or symptoms ­– or to diagnose women with symptoms, like lumps in their breasts.

When you get a mammogram, a technician will place your breast between 2 plastic plates and press your breast flat to get a clear picture. Getting a mammogram can be uncomfortable for some women, but the discomfort only lasts a few seconds.

It takes about 20 minutes to get mammograms. Learn more about mammograms

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The Basics: Breast Cancer

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is cancer that forms in the breast when abnormal (unusual) cells turn into cancer. Breast cancer can spread to other parts of the body.

Talk with your doctor or nurse if you notice any of these changes:

  • A lump or an area that feels very firm in the breast or armpit
  • A change in size, shape, or feel of the breast
  • Fluid (called discharge) coming out of a nipple
  • Skin on the breast that is itchy, red, flaky, or dimpled

Learn more about breast cancer.

What if the doctor finds something wrong with my breast?

Mammograms let the doctor or nurse look for lumps inside your breasts that you can’t feel from the outside. If you have a lump, you may need other tests to find out if it’s cancer or not.

The doctor or nurse may take a small bit of tissue from the lump for testing. This is called a biopsy (“BY-op-see”).

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Take Action!

Take Action: See Your Doctor

Talk with your doctor about when and how often to get mammograms.

Ask the doctor about your breast cancer risk. 

Together, you and your doctor can decide what’s best for you.

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Take Action: Cost and Insurance

What about cost?

The Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010, requires many health plans to cover screening mammography as a preventive benefit for women over age 40. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get mammograms at no cost to you.

Check with your insurance company to find out what’s included in your plan. For information about other preventive services that most health plans cover under the Affordable Care Act, visit

If you don’t have private insurance, you can still get mammograms.

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Take Action: Healthy Habits

Get support.

Use these tips to get support when you get mammograms.

  • Ask other women who have had mammograms about what to expect.
  • When you go to get mammograms, ask a family member or friend to go with you.

Make sure to ask when you will get your mammogram results. When you get the results, ask the doctor or nurse to explain what the results mean.

Get active.

Getting active increases your chances of living longer. Physical activity may help prevent breast cancer, colorectal cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

Get your well-woman visit.

Get a well-woman visit every year. Use this visit to talk with your doctor or nurse about important screenings and services to help you stay healthy.

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