Breast cancer screenings

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women. While rare, it can also occur in men. The primary way to find breast cancer is through breast cancer screening exams, such as monthly self-exams and mammograms.

HonorHealth provides you with convenient access to breast imaging and mammogram services as part of our first-rate care. Through our partnership with SMIL – Southwest Medical Imaging, LTD, you have access to state-of-the art breast imaging technologies, including mammograms, ultrasounds, biopsies and MRIs in a caring, comfortable setting.

Mammogram timing and frequency

Early detection boosts your odds of beating breast cancer, but when should you start getting mammograms?

If you’re average risk:

  • Starting at age 40: Talk with your doctor about whether a mammogram is right for you.
  • From age 50 and on: Get a mammogram at least every other year.

If you're high risk based on your personal or family medical history or a genetic breast mutation:

  • Starting at age 40: Get an annual mammogram.
    • You may need to start earlier, depending on your family history. If you have a close relative with breast cancer, start getting an annual mammogram 10 years earlier than your relative was at the time of her diagnosis – but not before age 30.
  • Talk to your doctor to see if you should also get other tests, such as a breast MRI and ultrasound.

Please note: If you’ve received a COVID-19 vaccine, the Society of Breast Imaging recommends that you wait four to six weeks after vaccination before scheduling your mammogram.

How do you know if you’re average or high risk?

You can determine if you're at average or high risk for breast cancer by using a breast cancer risk assessment tool from the National Cancer Institute. If your score is 20-25% or higher, you're considered at high risk for breast cancer.

The right technology

Breast cancer screening focuses on breast imaging and diagnostic tests, including:

Digital/3D mammogram

Digital mammography is one of the leading tools for detecting breast cancer. The highly sensitive imaging technology provides individual images of thin layers of breast tissue, producing much clearer images.

Breast MRI

A breast MRI balances image quality, diagnostic accuracy and patient comfort. This type of imaging is only used in special cases to support the findings of a biopsy and workup. Breast MRIs capture many cross-sectional images of the breast. A computer will compile these scans into 2D and 3D images.

Breast MRIs are used when you:

  • Have very dense breasts
  • Are at a high genetic risk for breast cancer
  • Have a family history of breast cancer

If you're already diagnosed with breast cancer, breast MRIs can help ensure that other areas of the breast are not cancerous. That information can help your doctors plan surgery accordingly.

The equipment makes MRI exams more comfortable. You lie face down, with breasts positioned against cushioned coils that emit radiofrequencies. The system guides you in and out of the scanner feet-first. Since your head is not in the machine, you won't feel claustrophobic.

Breast ultrasound

A breast ultrasound uses sound waves to help evaluate areas of concern found in a mammogram, and it also helps pinpoint where to perform needle biopsies.

While a mammogram might show a lump on a monitor, an ultrasound will help your breast radiology specialists determine whether the lump is a solid mass or a fluid-filled, benign cyst.

An ultrasound is also helpful for finding some abnormalities not detected on digital/3D mammograms — especially in dense, fibrocystic breasts.

Biopsy procedures

If the results of your mammogram, breast MRI or ultrasound reveal anything suspicious or abnormal, your breast radiology specialist may recommend a biopsy to determine whether the mass, module or calcification is malignant or benign.

In all biopsy procedures, a doctor removes tissue from a breast lump using a hollow needle. The samples are sent to the lab for further examination.

Common types include:

  • Stereotactic biopsy: 3D mammography is used to target and biopsy specific areas, such as calcifications, that may be only the size of three grains of salt. Calcifications are often not visible on ultrasound.
  • Ultrasound biopsy: MRI imaging is used as you lie face down on an MRI table. This allows the technologist to locate the specific area of the breast tissue that needs to be biopsied. The procedure is typically used for abnormalities seen on an MRI, but not felt by breast self-exam or clinical examination. These abnormalities cannot be seen with mammogram or ultrasound.
  • Needle aspiration: A needle aspiration may be used when you have a cyst, which can be large and uncomfortable. A needle draws out, or aspirates, the fluid. The fluid may be sent to a lab for further review. If cancer is suspected, a biopsy may be required.
  • MRI-guided biopsy: A needle aspiration biopsy, guided by an MRI, may be used when you have a cyst.

Take the next step

You can schedule a breast cancer screening at any SMIL location near you or talk with your primary care doctor to see what breast cancer screening may be right for you.


See locations