Breast Cancer Screening

What is breast cancer screening?

Regular screening is a way to help women find breast cancer early. A breast x-ray (mammogram) has been shown to be the most effective screening tool. It takes images (film or digital) of the soft tissue of the breast, to look for signs that breast cancer may be developing, even if you don’t have any symptoms.

Should I have a breast exam?

A breast exam (self-examination and exam by a health professional) has not been shown to be a helpful screening tool to reduce breast cancer and is currently not recommended. However, if you feel more comfortable having a breast exam done, you should discuss this with your health provider.

Who should have a mammogram?

It is recommended that women between the ages of 50-74 years be offered regular mammogram screening because the risk of developing breast cancer increases with age. Screening for women younger than 50 years and older than 74 years, who are at average risk of developing breast cancer, is not recommended.

If you are unsure of whether you should be having regular mammogram screening, please book an appointment.

Weighing the benefits and harms of having a mammogram

Mammography is not 100% accurate. The possible benefits (finding cancer early) and harms (false alarms and unnecessary testing) linked to breast cancer screening mammograms are listed below.

Consider each of the following statements to determine how important each one is to you:

  • Peace of Mind – you may feel less worried when you know that you do not have cancer on your screening mammogram.
  • Catching cancer at an early stage and simpler treatment – if your mammogram finds something abnormal, you will be carefully monitored and/or treated. If your cancer is found at an early stage, you may have simpler surgery and less need for chemotherapy.
  • Reduced chance of dying from breast cancer – the purpose of breast screening mammograms is to find breast cancer early. This reduces your chance of dying from breast cancer due to early diagnosis and simpler treatment.
  • You may feel less worried when you know that you do not have cancer on your screening mammogram.

If, after reading the above, you would like to be screened for breast cancer:

In Nova Scotia, mammograms are self-referred. To arrange for your mammogram, you may call the Nova Scotia Breast Screening program at 1-800-565-0548.

You may also visit their website at