Should you get a mammogram? If you do get a mammogram, at what age should you start? Once you start, can you ever stop getting regular mammograms? Questions, questions, questions abound and with good reason. It seems like every week a new and conflicting recommendation regarding mammography is released and splashed all over the news. Worry not, you know the Twin Docs have your back, so read on and figure out if, when and how often you should have a mammogram.
Why get a mammogram?
The mammogram is the single best way to screen for breast cancer as well as pre-cancerous changes in the breast. There is no perfect way to screen for any medical condition but the mammogram has greatly reduced the incidence of breast cancer over the decades and as mammograms get better, their ability to detect more cancers earlier is getting even better.
When should you start getting mammograms?
Now, this is the question and the answer really depends upon who you choose to listen to. ACOG (The American College of OB/GYN’s), ACS (The American Cancer Society), and USPSTF (The United States Preventative Services Taskforce) all have recommendations and their don’t necessarily agree. So, let’s break it down:
- If you are an average risk woman (you have never been diagnosed with breast disease and don’t have a family history of breast cancer in a first-degree relative), you should get your first mammogram at 40 years of age and definitely no later than 45 years old.
- If you have a first-degree relative (mother or sister) diagnosed with breast cancer before they started menopause, you should get your first mammogram 10 years before the age they were when they were diagnosed.
How often should you have a mammogram?
Once you start having mammograms, you should have one at least every year through 54 years of age. Once you hit 55 and beyond, you can continue yearly mammograms or space them out to every other year if you want and of course, if your doctor gives you the okay.
When can you stop getting mammograms?
The answer to this question is a little less clear but there is still good guidance. You should continue to get regular mammograms as long as you are in good health and have a reasonable expectation of living at least 10 years. So, as long as you are healthy, keep getting your mammograms.
What else can you do to monitor your breasts besides a mammogram?
Monthly Breast Self Exams: You should check your breasts every month for any changes. The best time to do a breast exam is after your monthly period while you are in the bath or shower. You want to examine the breast for any changes including:
- Lumps or bumps.
- Dimpling of the skin.
- Color changes of the skin including redness.
- Nipple changes or inversion.
MRI of the breast: MRI is a great technique to evaluate the breasts and it exposes you to much less radiation than a mammogram. The downside is the cost, which is about ten times that of a mammogram, which means getting insurance to pay for it is near impossible.
Breast Ultrasound: An ultrasound of the breast can also detect abnormalities but often needs to be followed up with a mammogram or MRI if an abnormality is found.
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