When Should I Start Getting Mammograms?

Mammograms are essential in detecting breast cancer. With their help, medical experts can diagnose cancer at earlier stages when it is most treatable, sometimes up to three years before it can be felt. But when you should start getting mammograms will depend on many factors. Let’s discuss.

What Is a Mammogram?

A mammogram is a specialized radiographic technique that uses a high-resolution, low-dose X-ray system to examine breasts. This imaging technique aids in the detection and diagnosis of breast cancer and other breast diseases, plus any early symptoms of breast cancer, such as lumps, thickening of the breast skin, breast discomfort, nipple discharge, or a change in the size or form of the breast. It is currently the most effective diagnostic and screening technique for detecting breast cancer.

When Should I Start Getting Mammograms?

Most experts suggest annual mammogram screenings for women who don’t have breast implant no younger than 40 and no later than 50. But before deciding when you should start getting mammograms, you need to know what your “normal” breasts look and feel like. That way, if you feel any changes, you can report them to your healthcare provider. Have implants? The FDA recommends getting a mammogram three years after getting implants to make sure everything is okay.

If you notice signs of a lump in your breast or changes in its shape, immediately book a consultation with a specialist. For some, these signs may indicate a benign tumor, which is not cancerous.

Can I Get a Mammogram Before 40?

Because only about 5% of breast cancer cases occur in women under 40, mammogram screening is generally not recommended for this age group. (Implants aside). Diagnosis is also more challenging as younger women’s breast tissue is often denser than older women’s.

However, a family history of breast cancer or genetic mutations can predispose certain people to breast or other types of cancer. In that case, screening should begin at age 25 or 10 years earlier than the relative was first affected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mentions that breast cancer in younger women can be more aggressive and less likely to improve with treatment.

People Who Are at Higher Risk for Breast Cancer

The American Cancer Society states that about 13% (1 in 8 females) in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime. In 2022, an estimated 30% of newly diagnosed cancers in women were expected to be breast cancer. You may be at a higher risk of breast cancer if:

  • You had radiation therapy between the ages of 10 and 30.
  • You have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer at a young age.
  • You have known genetic mutations can result in breast cancer.
  • You have Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry: One in 40 Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry carries one of three founder mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 – which are tumor suppressing genes that prevent tumors from forming in a body. The mutations can lead to the development of breast cancer or can be inherited by future generations.

How Often Should I Get a Mammogram?

The American Cancer Society recommends:

  • Women ages 25 and older must undergo a formal risk assessment for breast cancer.
  • Women ages 40+ with an average risk of developing breast cancer should start screening annually with mammograms.
  • Women 55+ should have screening mammograms every two years.

Mammograms are some of the best tools doctors have to detect and diagnose breast cancer accurately, but you don’t have to be afraid of them, nor do you have to rush into getting them before your doctor recommends it. However, if you feel you are more at risk than others – or notice any changes to the size, shape, or texture of your breast – it is important to speak with your doctor so they can guide you on when they believe it is appropriate for you to start getting annual mammograms.

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