What Age Should I Get a Mammogram?

Erica Kahn
Erica Kahn23 Aug 2022

In general, women at the age of 40 should consider beginning annual screening mammograms. By age 45, it is recommended every woman start yearly screenings while women 55 and older should either continue with annual screening or switch to biennial screening–once every two years. It is important to consult with your doctor when the right time to start screening is for you. 

Knowing how often and when to get a mammogram varies from person to person depending on age, family history, genetic predeposition, and more. Mira members have access to specialist and imaging referrals, virtual primary care, mental health therapy, and in-person urgent care. A membership with Mira is as low as $25 per month. Sign up today to get started. 

Starting Signs of Breast Cancer

Every person will experience different symptoms of breast cancer, and some may not experience any signs at all. Some signs of breast cancer, according to the CDC include:

  • Focal pain in the breast area
  • Nipple discharge, including blood (does not have breast milk)
  • New lump in the breast or underarm
  • Thickening or swelling of the breast skin
  • A change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Redness or flaky skin around the nipple area or breast
  • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin

What is a Mammogram, and Why is it Important?

A mammogram is an x-ray photo of the breast and is the most common and effective way to screen for early signs of breast cancer. Regular screenings for breast cancer are vital since early detection allows for more treatment options and a higher chance of survival. According to the Carol Milgard Breast Center, approximately 1 in 8 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with breast cancer. Women whose breast cancer is detected early have a 93% higher survival rate in the first five years of diagnosis. 

Factors that Increase Risk of Breast Cancer

Factors like family history, personal history, radiation exposure, weight, race/ethnicity, diet, alcohol consumption, and menstrual history can increase your risk of breast cancer. 

Dr. Melissa Frankel MD, a radiologist specializing in breast imaging at the Cleveland Clinic, recommends that “women should get a baseline screening mammogram between the age of 35 and 39 with routine yearly mammograms starting at the age of 40” and that “if you have a genetically proven increased risk of breast cancer, then you should consider getting a yearly mammogram starting at the age of 30.”

About 5% to 10% of breast cancers are thought to be hereditary. Regular monitoring or preventive surgery are options to discuss with your doctor if you are at risk of hereditary breast cancer. Deciding to get genetic testing for one of these genes is a personal decision and should be thoughtfully considered.

Tips for Preparing for a Mammogram

Mammograms are conducted in breast clinics, hospital radiology departments, private radiology offices, and doctor’s offices. Below are some tips on how to best prepare for a mammogram:

  • Go to the same facility every year or bring the images from your last mammogram to the upcoming one
  • Schedule when breasts are less tender (typically a week after the menstrual cycle)
  • Refrain from using deodorant, perfume, and cream
  • Plan accordingly as mammograms usually take 30 minutes to complete
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What is a Breast Self Exam? 

Breast self-examination is useful when used in combination with other screening methods like a mammogram, physical exam by a doctor, and in some cases, ultrasound or MRI. All women are recommended to routinely perform breast self-exams as part of their overall screening approach to breast cancer. Dr. Frankel MD recommends that “All women should do monthly breast self-examinations. This consists of both evaluating yourself in the mirror (looking for any asymmetries or dimpling) and examining your breasts in both laying down and upright positions (easiest in the shower) to feel for lumps.” To learn more about how to perform a breast self-exam, click here.

Mammography: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

Taking into account your circumstance is crucial when deciding how often and when to get a screening mammogram. Below we answer some questions regarding mammograms and address different personal situations. 

Are There Risks Associated with Mammograms?

Evaluating the risks involved in mammography are important to consider before your screening. Some of the risks include:

  • Low dosage exposure to radiation
  • False-positive results
  • Further testing
  • False-negative results
  • Overdiagnosis

Mammograms expose patients to a low dosage of radiation that can increase the risk of breast cancer. They may result in false-positive results, which can cause anxiety and may lead to additional testing or procedures like a biopsy (when the breast tissue is collected for further testing). Additionally, the chance of receiving false-positive results increases with the number of mammograms a woman has. “Overdiagnosis” is another potential risk to consider and is when cancerous cells that would not have developed to symptomatic cancer during a woman’s lifetime are treated. 

Lastly, screening mammography may result in a false-negative result which can lead to delays in treatment and may be a result of high breast density, which is more common among younger women. If the price of a screening mammogram is costly, Mira offers low-cost access to specialist imaging referrals for as low as $25 per month.

What is a Diagnostic Mammogram? 

While the machinery used is the same, diagnostic mammograms differ from screening mammograms. They are used to detect breast cancer after a lump or other symptoms of the disease have been discovered. Screening is used to detect early signs of breast cancer that have not been found yet. If the results of a screening mammogram indicate something that is potentially cancerous, a patient may be called back for a diagnostic mammogram. These take longer as more detailed x-ray images are needed for the doctor to make an accurate diagnosis.

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Can I get a Mammogram if I Have Breast Implants? 

Yes. If you have breast implants, you should still get regular screening mammograms as recommended. Be sure to inform them when scheduling your appointment. The implants can make it more difficult for the doctor to detect breast cancer, so more pictures are taken during the screening mammogram. If you have had both or one breast removed before getting an implant, you typically won’t need a mammogram on the reconstructed breast. 

Can I get a Mammogram if I’m Pregnant?

Yes. However, regular screening mammography is not conducted on pregnant women without symptoms. During pregnancy, your breasts undergo many changes that make it difficult to detect breast cancer. If you are experiencing symptoms of breast cancer and are pregnant, it is generally safe to have one since the radiation level is low and is only exposed to your breasts. A lead shield is placed on the belly for extra protection as well. 

Bottom Line

While mammography is the best screening tool to detect early signs of breast cancer today, it is not perfect. Assessing your situation to determine when and how often you should get a screening mammogram is crucial in making this decision and should be discussed with a doctor.   

It is recommended that every woman be screened for breast cancer as detecting it early allows for more treatment options and a higher chance of survival. Mira helps you prioritize your health by offering access to specialist and imaging referrals as well as virtual primary care, discounted gym memberships, and in-person urgent care for as low as $25 per month. 

Erica Kahn

Erica graduated from Emory University in Atlanta with a BS in environmental science and a minor in English and is on track to graduate with her Master's in Public Health. She is passionate about health equity, women's health, and how the environment impacts public health.