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Preventive Care - Mammograms

Mammograms Save Lives

It's a fast procedure and discomfort is minimal. The procedure is safe: there's only a very tiny amount of radiation exposure from a mammogram.  It is our most powerful breast cancer detection tool. 

A woman’s chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer is:

From ages 30 to 39

0.44 percent (often expressed as "1 in 229")

From ages 40 to 49

1.46 percent (often expressed as "1 in 68")

From ages 50 to 59

2.73 percent (often expressed as "1 in 37 ")

From ages 60 to 69

3.82 percent (often expressed as "1 in 26 ")

Birth to death

12.5 percent (often expressed as "1 in 8 ")

Mammograms are probably the most important tool doctors have to help them diagnose, evaluate, and follow women who've had breast cancer. Safe and highly accurate, a mammogram is an X-ray photograph of the breast.

Mammograms don't prevent breast cancer, but they can save lives by finding breast cancer as early as possible. For example, mammograms have been shown to lower the risk of dying from breast cancer by 35% in women over the age of 50. Women should begin having mammograms yearly at age 50, or earlier if they're at high risk.  

Controversy exists in the medical literature about yearly versus every two years screening in the 40-49 age population.   Leading experts, the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and the American College of Radiology now recommend annual mammograms for women over 40. Experts have argued that because only a small percentage of breast cancer cases occur in this age group, the potential risks of mammographic screening may outweigh the potential benefits.  Currently available data indicate that women who undergo screening mammography between ages 40 and 49 years are less likely to die of breast cancer than women who do not undergo screening.  Your doctor can review and individualize your breast screening recommendations.  Most patients should have a baseline mammogram between ages 35-40 for comparison. 

Finding breast cancers early with mammography has also meant that many more women being treated for breast cancer are able to keep their breasts.  The “lumpectomy” preserves the breast.   When caught early, localized cancers can be removed without resorting to the removal of the entire breast or what is known as a mastectomy.

Mammograms aren't perfect. Normal breast tissue can hide a breast cancer, so that it doesn't show up on the mammogram. This is called a “false negative” result.  Younger women or women taking hormones often have denser breast tissue and may have “false positive” results.  A false positive mammogram can identify an abnormality that looks like a cancer, but in reality is normal tissue. To make up for these limitations, other modes of monitoring the breast tissue are used. Because the mammogram is not perfect, we encourage women to practice monthly breast self-examination, get regular breast examination by an experienced health care professional, and, in some cases, also get other forms of breast imaging, like ultrasound or MRI scanning.