Your most common mammogram questions answered
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What is a mammogram?

Mammograms, or X rays of the breasts, can pick up cancers at their earliest stages, even when a lump is too small to be felt in a manual exam. In general, for women fifty and older, routine mammograms will reduce the risk of mortality from breast cancer by at least 30 percent, according to the american Cancer Society.

How do I know I need one?

Regular mammography is a must for every woman over age fifty and a serious consideration for women age forty to forty-nine. The average age of the onset of breast cancer is fifty, so women in this age range and over should be extra diligent about self and physician care, including mammograms. A baseline mammogram is usually done when a woman is in her forties so doctors have a picture for comparison when later mammograms are done.

What should I consider if I'm in my forties?

If you are in your forties and are unsure whether you should have regular mammograms, discuss the following issues with your doctor and evaluate your personal health profile. Cancer specialists debate whether regular mammograms are beneficial for women in their forties. One reason: Younger women's breasts are typically more dense and less fatty than those of older women. And dense breast tissue "clouds" a mammogram,making it difficult to see whether or not a cancer is present, and sometimes resulting in "false positives" -- suspicious findings that look like cancer but are not. However, the guidelines for women age forty to forty-nine are controversial,with some medical groups recommending that women should wait until they are fifty to begin regular mammograms. Despite the controversy, the American Cancer Society continues to take a "better safe than sorry" attitude, and recommends that women in their forties have screening mammography once every year.

If you have a mother or sister who had breast cancer, especially if she had it premenopausally, then regular mammograms in your forties may be worthwhile, according to the American Cancer Society. Also discuss the other risk factors for breast cancer with your doctor.

How often should I get a mammogram?

A baseline mammogram should be done in your forties. Cancer specialists debate whether mammograms are beneficial for women in their forties. There are proven benefits of yearly mammograms in women fifty and older, the age range in which most breast cancer develops.Medical groups including the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society agree that women age fifty or older should have a mammogram every year.


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