The decision to start having mammograms is a personal one. Some people may feel they need to have their first mammogram at age 40 while others might want to wait until they are 50. No matter what your age, you should consult your physician about when the right time for you is.
What are mammograms used for?
Mammograms, which are also called breast ultrasounds, X-rays and roentgenograms, are used to detect breast cancer. The procedure is painless and can be done during a routine annual visit or as part of a special medical checkup. A mammogram can detect cancer earlier than a biopsy.
“If you’re going to have one mammogram, you might as well have a regular one,” says Joseph Rieger, M.D., a breast surgeon at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis who directs the Cosmetic Surgery Center for Women with Breast Cancer at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. “It’s the beginning of prevention. We want to catch cancer early. The early detection doesn’t necessarily mean the cure, but it can buy time.”
What age should a woman get a mammogram?
The American Cancer Society recommends a mammogram every year from age 40 to 65 and once in menopause at age 55 or younger. Your doctor may suggest you have mammograms even earlier if there is a family history of breast cancer or you have risk factors for the disease such as breast implants, nursing, reproductive history and young age at first marriage. If you have a very high risk of developing breast cancer – for example if your mother or sister has had it – your doctor may recommend an X-ray screening every year beginning at 35.
Are mammograms safe?
There can be risks associated with X-rays, but your risk of harm from a mammogram is quite small. Mammograms are low dose so the amount of radiation you receive is small. The most common side effect from a mammogram is having some soreness in your breasts as the result of pressure used to position them for imaging. You may experience tenderness that goes away after several days. Occasionally, the breast tissue can become inflamed or infected after an X-ray procedure, but this is usually temporary and treated with antibiotics. Less than 1 percent of women will have complications from a mammogram.
It is important to remember that breast cancer is not just a disease of women. Men can get the disease, but the chance is much lower than for a woman of the same age. Because men are so much less likely to develop breast cancer, there is no need to perform routine screening tests on them. However, if you have a mother or sister who has been diagnosed with breast cancer – or if you live with someone who does – “I would start having mammograms ASAP,” recommends Dr. Rieger. “If you ever find something in your mammogram, that could save your life.
Are you worried about Breast Cancer Screening? Try now our interactive tool to help you make your decision when to start having mammograms