Health Conditions

Get Screened for Breast Cancer

A woman talks to her health care provider.

The Basics


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

Anyone who has breasts can get breast cancer — whether you’re a cisgender woman (a woman assigned female at birth), a transgender man, or a nonbinary person assigned female at birth. (Cisgender men and other people assigned male at birth can also get breast cancer, but it's rare.) 

The good news is that mammograms can help find breast cancer early — before it spreads to other parts of the body. Most people can survive breast cancer if it’s found and treated early.

How often should I get a mammogram?

If you’re age 40 to 74 years and you have breasts, get a mammogram every 2 years.

If you have a higher risk of getting breast cancer, your doctor may recommend that you start getting mammograms at a younger age or that you get them more often. The best way to find out what’s right for you is to talk to your doctor. 

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. The risk of harm from this radiation is very low.

Mammograms can be used to screen (test) for breast cancer in people with no signs or symptoms. They can also help doctors figure out if cancer is causing a particular symptom — like a lump or another change in the breast.

When you get a mammogram, a technician will place your breast on a platform and a plastic plate will press it flat to get a clear picture. Usually, the technician will take 2 pictures of each breast — 1 from above and 1 from the side. This part of a mammogram can be uncomfortable, but it usually only lasts 10 to 20 seconds.

It takes about 20 minutes total to get a mammogram. Learn more about mammograms.

Make sure to ask when you’ll get your mammogram results. When you get the results, ask the doctor or nurse to explain what the results mean. Learn more about mammogram results.

Breast Cancer

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is cancer that forms in breast tissue. Like all cancers, 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 the size, shape, or feel of the breast
  • Fluid (called discharge) coming out of a nipple
  • Skin on the breast that is itchy, red or purple, flaky, or dimpled

Learn more about breast cancer.

What if the doctor finds something in my breast?

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

For example, your doctor may take a small bit of tissue from the breast for testing. This procedure is called a biopsy.

Take Action

See Your Doctor

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

Ask the doctor about your risk for breast cancer. 

Use these questions to start a conversation with your doctor about mammograms. You can also ask about ways you may be able to lower your risk for breast cancer.

Tell your doctor if breast or ovarian cancer runs in your family — that may raise your risk for developing these and other types of cancer. You can use these questions to talk with your doctor about genetic testing for breast or ovarian cancer

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

Cost and Insurance

What about cost?

Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans must cover screening mammograms for women age 40 years and older. 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 more.

If you have Medicare, screening mammograms are also covered for women age 40 years and older at no cost. Find out about Medicare coverage for mammograms.

If you don’t have insurance, you can still get screening mammograms. Find a program near you that offers free or low-cost mammograms.

To learn more, check out these resources:

Healthy Habits

Get active.

Getting regular physical activity helps lower your risk for several types of cancer, including breast cancer. Learn more about how to get active

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 (like vaccines) to help you stay healthy. Learn more about well-woman visits.

Content last updated May 31, 2024

Reviewer Information

This information on breast cancer was adapted from materials from the National Cancer Institute and the Office on Women’s Health.

Reviewed by:
Rebecca Chasan, PhD
Science Writing and Review Branch
NCI Office of Communications and Public Liaison
National Institutes of Health