What are the benefits and limitations of screening for breast cancer?

Doctor reviewing test results with a patient

Almost every test or procedure has benefits and limitations. You might think of these as pros and cons. Before having any test, it’s important to be aware of them so that you’re making an informed decision that’s right for you. No screening test is 100% accurate, but the scientific evidence tells us that having regular mammograms lowers the risk of dying from breast cancer. It’s important to know the benefits and limitations of regular cancer screening.

Doctor reviewing test results with a patient

Benefits of regular mammograms
  • Having a mammogram reassures you if the result is normal.
  • Most women who have a mammogram will not have breast cancer and only a small number may need more tests.
  • Early detection of breast cancer may mean less treatment and less time spent recovering.
  • Most breast cancers are harmful and should be detected and treated as early as possible.
  • The earlier breast cancer is detected, the better your chance of survival.
Limitations of regular mammograms
  • Mammogram results may suggest breast cancer even though cancer is not present (called a false positive), especially in younger women.
  • A mammogram may not detect breast cancer even though it is present (called a false negative).
  • Some breast cancers may not lead to death or decreased quality of life (overdiagnosis).
  • Mammograms are x-ray tests that expose the breasts to radiation. The amount of radiation in each test is very low, but it adds up over time.

It's your decision

Still trying to decide if screening is right for you? When you think about how important it is to find cancer early, we believe the benefits of having regular mammograms for breast cancer outweigh the limitations.