An estimated 1 in 8 women (or 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. To give yourself the best possible chance of survival, early detection is critical. When found early, before it has had a chance to grow and spread, breast cancer is more likely to be receptive to treatment. The most reliable method for early detection is regular screening tests including self-breast exams and mammograms. But, at what age should women get their first mammogram?
The following recommendations from the American Cancer Society are for women at average risk for breast cancer. Meaning, she doesn’t have a personal history of breast cancer, a strong family history of breast cancer, a genetic mutation known to increase risk of breast cancer (such as the BRCA gene), and has not had chest radiation therapy before the age of 30.
- Women ages 40 to 44 have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms if they wish to do so.
- Women ages 45 to 54 are advised to get mammograms every year
- Women ages 55 and older have the option of switching to a mammogram every two years or continue with yearly screenings.
It is recommended that women continue regular screenings as long as she is in good health and expected to live longer than 10 or more years.
As researchers have continued to learn more about breast cancer, new technologies have been developed to help increase the rate of early detection.
Tomosynthesis, or 3D mammography, is an FDA-approved advanced technology that takes multiple images, or X-rays, of breast tissue to recreate a 3-dimensional picture of the breast compared to traditional mammography in which only a single image is obtained.
Multiple images of breast tissues slices allow doctors to have a clearer image of breast masses, making the detection of breast cancer easier and more accurate. Additionally, this technology allows physicians to detect more cancers, reduces the risk of false positives and makes it easier to see the cancer size compared to a regular mammogram.
What to Expect
Women notice little difference between 3D mammography and a traditional 2D screening. The tube taking the X-ray sweeps across the breast in an arch taking about four seconds to obtain an image, just a little bit longer than a digital mammogram.
Because 3D mammography produces more images, it does take radiologists a little longer to read than a single digital mammography image, but the original procedure is much the same. The whole procedure takes about 20 minutes. It is far more accurate in the early detection of breast cancer than a traditional mammogram.
Your breast must be flattened to obtain a high-quality picture, which can cause discomfort. For some women, it can be painful but don’t be afraid to tell the technologist if it hurts.
How to Prepare for Your Mammogram
The American Cancer Society suggests scheduling your mammogram when your breasts are not tender or swollen to help reduce discomfort, and in turn, get good images. It is advisable to avoid the week just before your period.
Your provider will give you instructions before your appointment, but be sure not to wear deodorant or antiperspirant on the day of your exam. These contain substances that can show up on the X-ray as white spots. If you aren’t going home after your mammogram, we provide deodorant for you to use after you have completed your mammogram.
Additionally, you may be more comfortable wearing a skirt or pants. That way you’ll only need to remove your top and bra for the mammogram.
While the process can be a little unnerving, particularly if it’s your first mammogram, you shouldn’t be afraid. Less than .04% of screening mammograms lead to a diagnosis of breast cancer.
Mammography at Triangle Physicians for Women
In our effort to provide one-stop, annual well-woman exams, Triangle Physicians for Women offers the convenience of the latest technology- in-office 3-D mammography for your annual breast screening. Our patients have loved the convenience of having their mammograms and annuals together in just ONE visit! To schedule an appointment, call (919) 678-6900.