Do I need a mammogram every year?

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Kathleen V. Greatrex, MD
Diagnostic Radiology
Sometimes mammograms are recommended every year, less frequently or not at all.

Some experts are talking about not screening women on a yearly basis after the age of 40. If that happens, breast cancers will be missed and women are needlessly going to die. The lymph node involvement or the spread of the tumors will increase. The numbers of women who are going to need mastectomies will increase. The numbers of women that are going to need chemotherapy are going to increase. So, many experts do advocate the changes that have been talked about and believe screening should continue every year after the age of 40.
 
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Mammography is defined as imaging of the breast using a low dose radiation to detect abnormalities that may indicate a breast cancer. Such abnormalities may be microcalcifications (calcium deposits that may be early signs of cancer), asymmetries (the difference in how the tissue of the breast looks compared to the opposite side or the previous year in the same breast), or masses. The primary goal of a screening mammogram is to diagnose breast cancer at an early stage, and therefore improve survival and decrease mortality. Mammograms should start with a base line at age 40, and continued yearly until age 80 to 85. Mammograms should be given at an earlier age if you have a first degree relative with breast cancer at age 45 or younger. It is important to have a clinical exam of your breasts yearly as well.

Beginning at the age of 40, all women should have an annual mammogram to check for breast cancer. The mammogram remains the most important screening device in the detection of breast cancer and it probably saves thousands of lives every year. Depending on a woman’s personal risk, her physician may recommend she begin annual mammograms before the age of 40. A revolutionary way to perform mammograms combining traditional mammography with 3D technology, called digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT), allows for more accurate pictures of breast health. Women who get their mammograms using the new DBT technology may find they are called less often for follow-up visits and more tests.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.