Breast Health

Reduce your risk of breast cancer, or detect breast cancer early—when it’s easier to treat. The breast health specialists at Essentia's cancer centers can help you maintain your breast health through education, screening, diagnosis, and treatment.

When to See a Provider

Talk to your primary care provider or gynecologist about your breast health if you notice:

  • Changes in the size or shape of the breast
  • Painful or itchy sore on the nipple
  • Liquid coming from the nipple without squeezing
  • Swelling, redness, warmth or darkening of the breast
  • Lump, hard knot, or thickening in breast or underarm area
  • A change in skin texture such as puckering or dimpling
  • Your nipple pulls in or changes its position or shape
  • New pain in one spot that does not go away

Routine Breast Exams

Ideally you should have a clinical breast exam performed by your primary care provider or gynecologist every year. During a clinical breast exam, your provider checks your breasts for warning signs of breast cancer.

Between appointments, we encourage self-breast awareness. Breast self-awareness is different from breast self-exam. Breast self-awareness is knowing how your breasts normally look and feel. Your breasts change as you go through different stages of your life. So it's important to learn what is normal for you.

Breast Health: Mammogram Guidelines Video Transcript


The Essentia Health logo appears, consisting of three leaves in a circle. Text, Essentia Health. Pam Lincoln, breast health, speaks to the camera.

PAM LINCOLN: Here at Essentia Health, we recommend women aged 40 to 75 have mammograms every year. And at age 75, they chat with their primary care provider to decide how often they should have them. There are things we can do as women to decrease our risk of breast cancer. Healthy body weight, exercising regularly, alcohol in moderation, and not smoking are all things that we can do to decrease our risk. We encourage breast self-awareness, which is knowing what your breasts look like, knowing what they feel like, so if there's a change, you'll notice quickly. Mammograms are really important. We want to find breast cancers early. We know when we find them early, they are more easily treated and they have a much higher survival rate.

Several imaging tests are displayed, as well as self-help charts concerning breast health awareness.

If you have any questions about how often you should have mammograms or when you should start them, chat with your primary care provider.

A pamphlet is viewed, entitled, Mammography. It includes information on what a mammogram is, and more.

Do I Need a Mammogram?

When breast cancer is caught early, it’s easier to treat. That’s why Essentia Health recommends women with an average risk of developing breast cancer get a mammogram every year beginning at age 40. You and your doctor may decide that you need mammograms less often after you turn 75.

In Minnesota, the following locations participate in the Sage Screening Program, which offers free mammograms to women who meet eligibility requirements:

  • Essentia Health-Duluth Clinic 1st Street Building
  • Essentia Health St. Joseph’s-Baxter Clinic
  • Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center (Brainerd)

Conditions Treated

See the full list of conditions we treat, and select a condition to find providers and locations near you.


Breast Imaging Services

Access a wide range of breast imaging services through Essentia Health. Your provider may use breast imaging to detect or diagnose breast disease. Depending on your symptoms and breast density, your provider may recommend:

  • Digital mammography
  • 3-D mammography
  • Breast ultrasound
  • Breast MRI
  • Image-guided breast biopsy
  • Ultrasound guided breast cyst aspiration

Your Breast Health Care Team

Your care team may include:

  • Breast cancer nurse navigators
  • Breast surgeons
  • Genetic counselors
  • Mammography technologists
  • Medical oncologists
  • Nurse practitioners
  • Occupational therapists
  • Pathologists
  • Physical therapists
  • Plastic surgeons
  • Radiologists
  • Radiation oncologists
  • Registered nurses
  • Social workers
  • Ultrasound technologists

What's My Breast Cancer Risk?

Your risk of breast cancer depends on many factors. Work with our breast health care team to learn about your risk and develop a personalized care plan. Your plan may include breast cancer education, lifestyle changes, genetic counseling and testing, and/or custom screening recommendations.

High-Risk Breast Cancer Care

The Essentia Health High-Risk Breast Cancer Program focuses on helping patients understand their risk for developing breast cancer. After a thorough history, examination and education session, patients and the Breast Health Program Nurse Practitioner partner together to form a personalized plan of care.

Medical Insight: High Risk Breast Cancer Program Video Transcript

SPEAKER: Welcome to Medical Insight, a weekly health care feature brought to you by the experts at Essentia Health.

The Essentia Health logo appears, consisting of three leaves in a circle. Text, Essentia Health. Here with you. Medical Insight.

Here's your host, Maureen Talarico.

Text, Maureen Talarico, Host.

MAUREEN TALARICO: Today, we talk to nurse practitioner and breast health expert Pam Lincoln about Essentia's High Risk Breast Cancer Program.

Text, Pam Lincoln, C N P, Breast Health Expert. Pam sits speaking to the camera, wearing a white lab coat.

PAM LINCOLN: It's a program we develop to identify women who are at high risk of developing breast cancer. Once we identify women who are at high risk we work with them to do everything we can to decrease the risk and also if they are going to develop breast cancer to find it as early as possible when it is more easily treated and highly curable.

Pam inaudibly speaks to a patient whose face is not shown.

The first thing we do is just get a lot of history, and then we take all that information and enter it into tools that we have online that actually predict the risk of developing breast cancer.

Pam sits with a patient in front of a computer monitor, while inaudibly speaking to her.

And if the risk comes out that your lifetime risk is about 20% or over, that's considered high risk. MAUREEN TALARICO: Pam says the average American woman has a 12% chance of developing breast cancer. If someone is found to be at high-risk, then a personalized plan is created to reduce risk and detect breast cancer earlier through screening. She will also connect patients to other Essentia experts, such as genetic counselors, breast surgeons, and gynecologists if needed.

Pam sits with a patient in front of an open pamphlet on a table, inaudibly speaking to her.

We also do a complete breast exam, a review breast self-awareness measures with women so that they know what to look for that would indicate something is going on and do a mammogram if their mammograms do. PAM LINCOLN: If you think you may be at high risk for developing breast cancer, call Essentia's Breast Health Center. No referral is needed, and everyone is welcome. For Medical Insight, I'm Maureen Talarico.

Text, Medical Insight. 2 1 8 7 8 6 3 1 0 7. Essentia Health dot org. The Essentia Health logo appears, consisting of three leaves in a circle. Text, Essentia Health. Here with you.

SPEAKER: To learn more about this topic, call our experts at 786-3107.


Lower Your Breast Cancer Risk

You can control some of your breast cancer risk factors. To lower your risk of developing breast cancer, make healthy lifestyle choices.

  • Keep a healthy weight
    • Women with a BMI (body mass index) lower than 25 are less likely to develop breast cancer than women with a higher BMI.
  • Make exercise part of your routine
    • Regular exercise decreases a woman’s risk of breast cancer by 10-25%. Aim for moderate physical activity 20-30 minutes/ day, 4 days/week.
  • Limit how much alcohol you drink
    • Don't drink more than one alcoholic drink per day. Women who have 2-3 drinks per day have a 20% higher risk of breast cancer.
  • Limit hormone use for symptoms of menopause
    • Hormone therapy with estrogen and progesterone increases the risk of breast cancer. Higher risk is associated with longer use.
  • Breastfeed if you can
    • Breastfeeding for a year or more has been shown to decrease a woman’s risk of breast cancer.
  • Don’t smoke
    • If you smoke, talk with your primary care provider about options for quitting. Smoking increases breast cancer risk especially in long-term, heavy smokers.

Nationally Accredited

Trust Essentia Health for high-quality, evidence-based breast care. Our breast health programs in Brainerd and Duluth, Minnesota and Fargo, North Dakota are accredited by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC). This accreditation is granted to programs that are committed to providing the best possible care to patients with breast diseases.

Make An Appointment

Essentia Health Cancer Center (Duluth)
Call 218-786-1019 

Essentia Health Cancer Center (Fargo)
Call 701-364-8910

Essentia Health St. Joseph’s Cancer Center (Brainerd)
Call 218-828-3113

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