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When Should You Get Your First Mammogram?

October 31, 2023 Posted in: Women's Health

Women should typically get their first mammogram at the age of 40. Regular mammograms are essential for early detection of breast cancer, as they can identify potential abnormalities before they become symptomatic. After the initial screening at 40, it's generally recommended to continue receiving mammograms annually to maintain breast health. These recommendations are based on extensive research and medical expertise.

Studies have shown that regular mammograms starting at the age of 40 can significantly reduce mortality rates associated with breast cancer. According to  Dr. Takelya Williams, fellowship-trained breast surgeon at CHI Memorial Breast Care Associates, "Mammograms starting at 40 allow us to detect tumors at an earlier stage when they are smaller and more treatable." Early detection improves the chances of successful treatment and long-term survival.

For women with a family history of breast cancer, the age for the first mammogram might be earlier. If you have a first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) who was diagnosed with breast cancer, especially at a younger age, your healthcare provider might recommend starting mammograms earlier. Dr. Betsy Washburn, CHI Memorial Breast Cancer Surgery Medical Director advises, "Women with a family history of breast cancer should have a conversation with their healthcare provider to determine the most appropriate screening plan based on their individual risk factors."

Learn more about mammography

Why are mammograms recommended at 40?

The age of 40 was chosen as the recommended starting point for mammograms because, at this stage, the benefits of early detection outweigh any potential harms. While breast cancer can occur at any age, the risk increases as women get older. Mammograms are particularly effective at detecting tumors in women over 40, contributing to a higher likelihood of successful treatment outcomes.

Can you get a mammogram at 35?

Women under the age of 40 might require mammograms for specific reasons, such as a strong family history of breast cancer or the presence of certain genetic mutations (BRCA1 and BRCA2). Additionally, if someone experiences unusual symptoms like a lump or pain in the breast, their healthcare provider might recommend a mammogram for diagnostic purposes.

Can you get a mammogram at 20?

Mammograms are generally not recommended for women in their 20s unless there are exceptional circumstances. Breast cancer is relatively rare in this age group, and the breast tissue is often denser, making mammograms less effective and potentially leading to false-positive results. However, if an individual has a known genetic mutation or an extraordinary risk factor, their healthcare provider might suggest early screenings.

How often should you get a mammogram?

After the initial mammogram at 40, it's generally advised to have annual mammograms. Regular screenings increase the chances of detecting breast cancer in its early stages when treatment options are more effective.

Benefits of getting mammograms early

Early mammograms provide several benefits, including higher chances of detecting cancer at a more treatable stage. Studies have shown that regular mammography starting at 40 reduces breast cancer mortality rates by up to 40%. Early detection can also lead to less aggressive treatment and better overall outcomes.

Preparing for your first mammogram

Before your first mammogram, it's important to:

  • Inform your healthcare provider about any breast symptoms or family history.
  • Avoid using deodorants, perfumes, or lotions on the day of the exam, as they can interfere with the results.
  • Wear a two-piece outfit for easier access to the breasts.

What to expect at your first appointment

During a mammogram appointment:

  • You'll be asked to undress from the waist up and wear a gown.
  • The technician will position your breast on the mammogram machine and compress it briefly to capture X-ray images.
  • The procedure is usually uncomfortable but not painful, and it only takes a few minutes.

What to expect from results

It's important to note that mammograms have limitations. False-positive results (indicating a potential issue when none exists) and false-negative results (missing an actual issue) can occur. If your mammogram shows any abnormal findings, further testing, such as additional mammograms, ultrasounds, or biopsies, might be recommended to confirm or rule out any concerns.

Learn more about mammography

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