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Breast screening: what you need to know

Breast screening is an essential part of every woman’s life, and should be performed both by yourself monthly, as well as by doctors, as explained below.

The goal of breast screening is to detect breast lumps and find a potential cancer before it spreads and starts to cause symptoms.

The term screening refers to tests and examinations used to find a disease like cancer in people who do not have any symptoms or signs, or who have not noticed any breast changes.

The earlier a breast cancer is found, the better the cancer’s treatment will work and, therefore, the better the outcome.

Most doctors feel that early detection tests for breast cancer save many thousands of lives each year.

The guidelines for breast cancer screening differ in different countries, but generally include the following:


Women over 40 should ask their doctor how often to go for a mammogram.

While mammograms can miss some cancers, they are still a very good way to find breast cancer, including the “in situ” cancers, i.e., cancers that are not yet invasive.

A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that uses very low levels of radiation. During the process, the breast is flattened between 2 X-ray plates. While this may be uncomfortable, it only lasts a few moments and is required to get a good picture.

Find more information on mammograms here.

Clinical breast examination (CBE)

Women in their 20s and 30s should have CBE as part of their regular examination by a health expert at least every 3 years. After age 40, women should have a CBE every year.

Breast self-examination (BSE)

BSE is an option for women starting in their 20s. It has both benefits and limitations.

If you do a BSE on a regular basis, you get to know how your breast normally look and feel and can more easily notice changes. Any worrying changes should be reported to your health professional.

Read how to do your monthly self-examination.

Women at high risk

Women who have a higher risk of breast cancer should discuss with their doctor the best approach for them. This may mean starting mammograms when they are younger, having extra screening tests or more frequent examinations.

Phone: (+27) 021 531 6924
Life Vincent Pallotti Hospital / Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital / Claremont Pathcare Suites