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Breast Cancer Screening and Diagnosis

breast cancer screening

Breast Cancer Screening at MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute

The earlier breast cancer is found, the greater the chance for a cure, which is why breast cancer screening, mammography and clinical breast exams are so important. We support the American Cancer Society’s breast cancer screening recommendations:

  • Women age 40 and older should have a mammogram every year and should continue to do so for as long as they are in good health. Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam (CBE) as part of a periodic (regular) health exam by a health professional, preferably every 3 years. Starting at age 40, women should have a CBE by a health professional every year.
  • Breast self-exam (BSE) is an option for women starting in their 20s. Women should be told about the benefits and limitations of BSE. Women should report any breast changes to their health professional right away.
  • Women who are at high risk for breast cancer based on certain factors should get an MRI and a mammogram every year.

We offer the latest imaging equipment and minimally invasive biopsies, for a prompt and accurate diagnosis and a higher likelihood of successful treatment.


Our dedicated breast radiologists use the best breast cancer screening imaging tools available, including:

  • Ultrasound: An ultrasound bounces sound waves off parts of your body, then converts the echoes into an image. Your doctor may use ultrasound to look at abnormalities found during a physical exam or to provide additional detail after another imaging test.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): An MRI is an advanced high-resolution imaging technique performed using a dedicated breast coil. The scans are especially helpful for:
    • Evaluating the tissue in both breasts in patients with a breast cancer diagnosis to make sure there are no other abnormalities
    • Screening women with a family history of breast cancer or a hereditary predisposition for the disease, such as someone who carries a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes
    • Monitoring your progress during or after treatment


When imaging detects an abnormality, the next step is a consultation with one of our breast surgeons, often followed by a breast biopsy to remove a sample of tissue and/or fluid for study. Biopsy may be performed minimally invasively with a needle or with surgery. Both are outpatient procedures, so you can go home the same day.

Whenever possible, our surgeons and radiologists take a minimally invasive approach, which offers:

  • Reduced infection risk
  • Quicker recovery
  • Less scarring
  • Faster results

Biopsies allow our team to look at the cancerous cells under a microscope, as well as determine whether they have receptors for the growth-promoting hormones estrogen (ER-positive cancer) or progesterone (PR-positive cancer).

Our doctors will review the results with you and discuss your treatment options. If needed, further studies can determine the cancer’s stage and whether it has spread (metastasized). Also, if the cancer is a type that can spread to the lymph nodes, your doctor may recommend a sentinel lymph node biopsy.


Doctors often describe breast cancer by its stage — the size of the tumor and whether it has spread to your lymph nodes or other parts of your body. The cancer’s stage also depends on whether it is:

  • Non-invasive: These cancers stay within the milk-producing glands (the lobules) or the milk ducts, such as the pre-cancer ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). Learn more about DCIS.
  • Invasive: These cancers spread into normal, healthy tissues.

Staging helps determine the best approach to treatment, and your doctor might recommend additional imaging tests for the most accurate classification.

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