For most women, yearly mammogram screenings should start between ages 40-50. Specific age recommendations can vary based on medical history, family history, and personal preference. For example, women who have an immediate family member who has had breast cancer should probably begin screenings at 40. And early screening isn’t a bad thing to consider in general, as 1 in 6 breast cancers occur in women ages 40-49. Early screenings mean catching cancer early when the disease is usually easier to treat and survival rate is higher.
Annual mammograms should continue as long as a woman is in good health and expected to live for another 10 years or more. At the recommendation of a physician, women with specific risk factors may want to start getting mammograms even earlier than age 40. Women who are at higher risk of breast cancer can also opt to add MRI screenings to mammogram screenings. Women should get a personalized recommendation from a healthcare provider regarding whether or not breast MRIs will be beneficial.
What happens at an appointment?
A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray exam that detects abnormalities in the breast. These screenings allow doctors to see changes in the breast tissue that are not visible or felt during a breast exam. During a mammogram, a radiologic technician assists in placing the woman’s breast between an x-ray plate and a plastic plate. The breasts get compressed slightly to obtain a clear picture. Typically, a mammogram only takes about 20 minutes from start to finish.
What if it’s uncomfortable?
A number of factors contribute to how comfortable or uncomfortable a mammogram is. Even a woman’s level of anxiety can affect comfort. To make mammograms less painful, make sure to tell the technician what hurts. Adjusting the height of the machine or asking for padding can help significantly. Additionally, women should schedule mammograms for the week after a menstrual period, when breasts are less sensitive. Cutting back on caffeine 2 weeks prior to the appointment and taken NSAIDs 45-60 minutes before the mammogram can also help minimize pain.
Schedule a mammogram today
While mammograms are probably not a favorite on a woman’s list of to-do items, the screenings are vital to catching breast cancer early. In addition to monthly breast self-exams, mammograms are one of the most important tools for fighting breast cancer. Women should speak with a healthcare provider about when to start mammogram screenings.