How often do I need a mammogram and why?
Lila Statz, MD, is a family practice physician at Banner Health Clinic in Fort Morgan, Colo.
Question: How often do I need mammogram screening and why?
Answer: Let’s address the second part of the question first. The screening mammogram—an X-ray picture of the breast—is used to check for breast cancer in women who have no signs or symptoms of the disease.
The National Cancer Institute reports that screening mammography can help reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer among women ages 40 to 74. If breast cancer is detected during a screening mammogram, treatment can begin earlier in the course of the disease, possibly before it has spread. Early detection also helps determine the type of treatment.
How frequently should you have mammogram screening? A woman should have her first mammogram at age 40 and annually after that. If you have a family member who had breast cancer, it’s important that you talk to your doctor.
A woman’s chance of developing breast cancer increases if her mother, sister, and/or daughter have been diagnosed with the disease, especially if they were diagnosed before age 50. Having a close male blood relative with breast cancer also increases a woman’s risk of developing the disease. In these cases, women should have their first mammogram 10 years before the age at which the family member was diagnosed with breast cancer.
If you are at increased risk for breast cancer due to family history, genetic tendency or past breast cancer, talk with your physician about the benefits and limitations of starting mammography screening earlier. Also, discuss the possibility of additional tests—such as breast ultrasound or MRI—as well the frequency of your mammograms.