When Do I Need a Mammogram?

When do I need a mammogram? Asking for a friend and by a friend I mean me. As my early 30’s start to transition into my mid-30’s, it begs the question: when should I get a mammogram?

We schedule annual appointments to meet with our dentists, dermatologists, and OBGYNs for yearly check-ups and visits. I swear as we get older, our list of doctors gets longer, but breast health is important too. Enter mammograms.

when should i get a mammogram

What is a mammogram?

According to the CDC, a mammogram is an x-ray picture of the breast. Doctors use a mammogram to look for early signs of breast cancer and according to Dr. Jane Mendez, Chief of Breast Surgery at Miami Cancer Institute part of Baptist Health South Florida, mammograms are the gold standard for breast cancer screening. Regular mammograms are the best tests doctors have to detect early stages of breast cancer. John Hopkins Medicine agrees, because most cancers detected by mammography have no symptoms.

What can I expect at a mammogram?

As outlined by the CDC, a mammogram is conducted using a special x-ray machine. Patients will stand in front of the machine and a technologist will place their breast on a plastic plate. Another plastic plate will firmly press the breast from above. The plates will flatten the breast, ultimately holding it very still while the x-ray is being taken.

These same steps are repeated to capture a side view of the breast. Everything is then repeated on the second breast. (That’s right people, two breasts mean this is all done twice). Mammograms, from what I have been told, do not hurt. However, there will be some slight pressure, which can cause discomfort for some people.

The technologist will then check the four x-rays to make sure the images do not need to be retaken. It is important to remember the technologist cannot tell the results of your mammogram. Instead, the images will be reviewed by a licensed mammographer.

When do I need to get a mammogram?

Okay, so now we know what happens during a mammogram. But the question still remains, “When should I get a mammogram?”

According to the Mayo Clinic, Mayo Clinic doctors offer mammograms beginning at age 40 and continuing with them annually. Dr. Mendez agrees. “At Miami Cancer Institute, we recommend women start getting a mammogram at age 40 and annually thereafter.” However, if you have a family history of breast cancer, it is recommended to begin breast cancer screenings earlier.

“Women with a known family history of breast cancer or a known genetic predisposition should have a conversation with their primary care provider to see if earlier testing is recommended,” says Mendez. “If the patient has a family history, we usually recommend that she be screened 10 years before the age at which the first-degree relative was diagnosed for breast cancer.”

It is important to note that breast cancer screening guidelines are issued by various medical organizations in the United States.These organizations do not always agree on when to begin screening mammograms and how often to repeat them. Instead, they recommend meeting with your primary care physician to discuss what is best for your own unique health situation. Like with many things in life, everyone and every body is different.

“When to begin mammogram screening and whether to repeat it every year or every other year is a personal decision based on your preferences,” says Mayo Clinic. That means discussing the benefits, risks, and limitations of mammograms with your doctor and deciding together what is best. “Your doctor can guide you in balancing the benefits of screening with the limitations and risks.”

However, it is important to continue mammograms as we age, Dr. Mendez. “As we age, it is even more important to be screened annually, because there is an increased likelihood of detecting breast cancer. Mammograms are the gold standard for breast cancer screening and save lives in all women, specifically in women ages 40-45.”

Tips for getting a mammogram

If you are gearing up to get your first mammogram, or if you are a seasoned mammogram vet,  here are some tips for getting a mammogram because we could also use a reminder.

  • Avoid scheduling your mammogram the week before or after your period. Your breasts may be tender or swollen due to the changes in hormones.
  • For the mammogram, you will need to undress from the waist up. Consider wearing a top with pants, a skirt, or shorts as opposed to a dress.
  • On the day of your scheduled mammogram, do not wear deodorant, perfume, or powder. These personal hygiene products can potentially interfere with the reading of the breast images, says Dr. Mendez.
  • Remember, every woman’s mammogram will look different. Breasts are all different and come in many shapes and sizes.

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Women's Health

About Ashley Martens

Ashley Martens is a Wellness Writer based in Chicago, Illinois. With a background in a digital marketing coupled with her knowledge of general nutrition and a lifelong passion for all things health, wellness, fitness and nutrition, Ashley offers a healthy alternative to traditional writing. You can learn more Ashley and her writing over at her blog, Three to Five a Day.