Regular breast cancer screenings can help you take charge of your health. Screenings such as mammograms can catch breast cancer early when the tumor is smaller and easier to treat.
In the U.S., breast cancer is the second-leading cause of death from cancer in women. And it doesn’t just happen to people who are at high risk. Up to 85% of breast cancers affect women who have no family history of the disease.
If you’ve never had a mammogram before or have questions about your breast cancer risk, your healthcare provider can help. Contact your provider today so they can answer your questions and help you get started with breast cancer screenings.
Why do I need a mammogram?
Mammograms can find breast changes years before a lump or other symptoms appear. The American Cancer Society says that women who have regular mammograms are:
- More likely to have doctors find and treat breast cancer early.
- Less likely to need aggressive treatment such as chemotherapy or mastectomy (surgical removal of the breast).
- More likely to be cured of breast cancer.
Know your breast cancer risk
Some women have a higher risk of breast cancer than others. Your risk determines how often you need a mammogram or other tests.
You have an average risk of breast cancer if you:
- Don’t have a personal history or family history of breast cancer.
- Don’t have a genetic mutation that can increase breast cancer risk, such as the BRCA gene mutation.
- Did not have chest radiation therapy before age 30.
You have a higher risk of breast cancer if you have or had:
- A genetic test that showed a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation.
- A parent, brother, sister or child with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation.
- Radiation therapy to the chest before age 30 (for example, for Hodgkin lymphoma treatment).
- An inherited condition that increases breast cancer risk, including Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome, Cowden syndrome or Li-Fraumeni syndrome.
- A parent, brother, sister or child with Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome, Cowden syndrome or Li-Fraumeni syndrome.
Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk factors. Your provider can determine your risk level and the screening schedule that is right for you.
Breast cancer screenings for women at average risk
If you have an average risk of breast cancer, your screening recommendations are based on your age. Women who are ages:
- 40 to 44 may get a mammogram every year, but it’s optional.
- 45 to 54 should get a mammogram every year.
- 55 and older may continue getting mammograms every year or may switch to every other year.
Breast cancer screenings for women at high risk
If you have a high risk of breast cancer, talk to your healthcare provider about the following recommended screenings:
- Mammogram every year, starting at age 30.
- Breast MRI every year, starting at age 30.
What happens during a mammogram?
Mammograms are breast X-rays using low doses of radiation. Here’s what to expect:
- Make an appointment: You can make an appointment at an FDA-approved mammography facility. You do not need a referral for a screening mammogram. Ask your doctor for a recommendation if you’re not sure which facility to use or check your health plan’s website.
- Prepare for the test: After you arrive at the facility and check in, you’re guided to a changing room. You undress from the waist up and wear a wrap or hospital gown. Then your technologist takes you to your private mammography room.
- Undergo the test: Your technologist positions your breast on a clear, flat plate. Another plate comes down on top of the breast to compress the tissue for a clear picture. This only takes a few seconds. Some women feel discomfort during the compression. Tell your technologist if it hurts.
- Repeat the process: Your technologist repeats this process for the other breast.
- After the test: After your mammogram is complete, your technologist guides you back to your changing room so you can get dressed and go home.
Getting your mammogram results
A radiologist reviews your mammogram and sends a full report to your primary care provider. You also receive a summary of your results in the mail. Most women receive their results within a few weeks, but you may get them sooner. Your healthcare provider will call you if the results show anything concerning.
Screenings save lives
Screenings are the best way to catch breast cancer before it spreads. And your healthcare provider is your partner in care, ensuring you get the screenings you need. If you are due for a breast cancer screening, contact your provider or schedule your mammogram today.
Sources: American Cancer Society, Breastcancer.org, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Cancer Institute