When Should I Get a Mammogram? | Revere Health

The mammogram, which is meant to detect breast cancer as early as possible, can often do so before women are able to feel or detect cancer in any noticeable way themselves. Mammograms are vital screening tests that can save lives.

Most women should start to consider mammograms around age 40, but there’s still some controversy about the age at which you should begin getting mammograms.

Mammogram Age

Doctors at The Mayo Clinic recommend mammograms to women beginning at age 40, and they emphasize discussing benefits and risks. The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends beginning at age 50, while the American Cancer Society recommends age 45—but both these bodies recognize that earlier screening makes sense for some women with certain risk factors.

The Evidence is Changing

Part of the reason Mayo Clinic makes their recommendations is due to research showing that these screenings can decrease deaths from breast cancer by between 15 and 29 percent. At the same time, other studies have thrown some question into the actual connection between mammograms and cancer survival rate—suggesting that the survival rate increases we’re seeing recently are actually due to better treatment processes, not earlier detection.

While this evidence is important to consider, the decision about what age you should start getting mammograms is ultimately up to you and your doctor. Some women might fall under the category of “high-risk” and should consider mammograms at an earlier age. High-risk women include:

  • Women with a family history of breast cancer
  • Women who are BRCA carriers
  • Obese women
  • Infertile women
  • Women with dense breasts
  • Women who experience young puberty or late menopause

Are There Risks?

Risks of mammograms include:

  • False positives: A false positive is a case in which the test initially shows an issue like cancer, but additional testing proves this to be incorrect. This issue is particularly common in women between ages 40 and 50 – up to 10 percent of these women who have mammograms will require additional testing for an abnormal result, but just 10 percent of these women will actually have cancer. Not only can this lead to mental and emotional anxiety, it may lead to unnecessary tests or procedures. Newer mammogram technologies are lowering rates of false positives, however.
  • Radiation risks: Because they’re actually X-rays, mammograms do send small quantities of radiation into the body. As many know, radiation can be a cause of cancer in some cases. But it’s important to note the doses here – the amounts are so minuscule for mammograms that the average woman is about 100 times more likely to have her life saved through screening than to actually get cancer due to resulting radiation.
  • Detecting too much: Another potential issue is mammograms working so well that they detect small, slow-growing cancers that would never have harmed the patient in their life. This often happens to older patients and can lead to unnecessary and invasive treatments.

Speak to your doctor for further recommendations on your specific situation and when to begin mammograms.

Obstetricians/gynecologists at Revere Health OB/GYN provide a full range of healthcare services to women throughout all stages of their lives, including puberty, child-bearing years, menopause and beyond.

This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.

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