Should I Get a Mammogram?

Q: I am not 40 yet, but should I get a mammogram now since both my mom and her mother had breast cancer (although it was post-menopausal in both cases)?

A: This is a question that I get asked frequently. As you probably know, the general recommendation is for women to have a mammogram every one to two years beginning at the age of 40 and annually after the age of 50. More aggressive screening (beginning at younger ages) is recommended for women who are at higher risk–those who have already had breast cancer or who have a mother or sister who developed breast cancer BEFORE menopause.

There’s not enough scientific evidence to say that for women in your situation earlier mammograms will have a benefit in terms of earlier diagnosis and survival. It is certainly tempting to say that you should go ahead and have the mammogram if it will give you peace of mind, but this would not be good advice either.

Mammograms are a particularly poor imaging tool for finding tumors in young women because both the tumors and breast tissue are dense. If you get a mammogram now, there’s a significant chance that the X-ray will miss any tumor you might have or that it will find something that leads to a biopsy but turns out not to be cancer.

The best advice I can give you is this: See your doctor yearly for a breast exam and be attuned to any changes in your breasts. Most lumps, dimplings, or strange thickenings are found accidentally. Any redness, tingling, pain, or nipple discharge should be discussed with your doctor.

If you cannot shake the fear of the potential of breast cancer and want some type of evaluation, then discuss with your doctor whether you should have a breast MRI which is better at examining the dense breast tissue of younger women. Bear in mind that it is possible that your insurance will not cover the cost.

I am glad to hear that you are concerned about doing the right thing because even in this day and age with so much media attention given to breast cancer, the number of women who don’t follow the recommended guidelines for screening is startling.

Learn more:
All about the breast exam
How to prevent breast cancer

Dr. Brent Ridge is the health expert for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. You can call and ask him a question live every Tuesday at 2 p.m. Eastern on Sirius Satellite Radio, Channel 112 (1.866.675.6675). You can also follow along as he learns to grow his own food and raise goats on his farm in upstate New York by visiting www.beekman1802.com.

Got a health question for Dr. Brent? E-mail him at drbrent@care2.com.

35 comments

Danuta Watola
Danuta Watola3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Jos� Mar�

Yes, undoubtely althought you think you are ok please take a mammogram the doctor will see your breast throug this and if you have "problems" the "problems" will be fixed and you know when you see the "problem" and it´s small it´s easy to solve it so although you think you are very well perhaps you´ve got a small problem if that small problem isn´t fix the problem will be big and will be difficult to fix (perhaps if the problem is big you can´t fix it 100% but if the problem is small you can fix it 100%)

Magdalen B.
Magdalen B.4 years ago

Having had several mammograms over the years, I must disagree with the woman who claimed they were "very painful" I only experienced brief discomfort.

KAREN L.
KAREN L.4 years ago

Have an exam scheduled for this Monday.....all important, as a good friend has just finished with her chemotherapy sessions and am hoping to never have to do that.

Winn Adams
Winn Adams4 years ago

Thanks

Carole H.
Carole H.4 years ago

we are each responsible for our own body, so its up to us to read all the research and then CHOOSE what we want to do about our health. I think thats the bottom line, choices.

Jennifer C.
Past Member 5 years ago

Thanks for the useful information.

Julia Perry
Julia Perry5 years ago

Here in the UK Breast Cancer screening starts at 50 for all women, You are invited to have a mammogram every three years. Mobile units are set up around the country to deal with us all

Holistic Joe Healer
Joseph Delgado5 years ago

Sorry .... the end of my previous comment was cut short ....

"They've been called a lot of ugly things by many well-informed people and still, strangely, they endure."

Holistic Joe Healer
Joseph Delgado5 years ago

While I'm not a fan of using the "H" word in general, I can appreciate the passion for its use in characterizing the FDA’s horrifically deceptive and inhumane operations which have less to do with promoting the cause of disease resolution and more to do with servicing the interests of the Medical Industrial Complex. Anyone putting energy into hair-splitting banter of whether Hitler killed his victims or had others do it for him is ignoring the seriousness of the issue at hand -- that the FDA HAS AUTHORIZED AND CONTINUES TO ADVOCATE WIDESPREAD MAMMOGRAM USE, DESPITE THE DOCUMENTED LIFE-THREATENING DANGERS AND INACCURACIES!

The articulation of historical semantics may be a worthy distraction for some, but a more productive endeavor would be to promote careful contemplation and public discussion on the UNFETTERED CONTROL the FDA has to sanctify or villainize diagnostic equipment and who really benefits from that process.

Whether you associate the FDA’s deeds with "Hitler" or "Mahatma Gandhi," the shock-value is, I think, useful if only to alert the reader to investigate the agency for him/herself, instead of blindly putting one's faith in a regulatory agency with a documented history for lacking transparency and accountability. And don't worry -- the FDA has enough manpower, economics, and media clout to handle any unfair or inaccurate dictator-inspired aspersions. They've been called a lot of ugly things by many well-informed people and still, strangely, th