While it’s true that the majority of women who develop breast cancer are 50 or older, it’s possible to develop breast cancer at any age. That’s why it’s important to get in the habit of examining your own breasts in your 20s.
Mammograms give off very low doses of radiation. As the American Cancer Society notes, the benefits of having a mammogram outweigh the risk of harm from this radiation exposure in most cases. However, you should let your doctor and mammogram imaging specialist know if there’s any chance you could be pregnant before you have a mammogram.
A family history of breast cancer is a risk for developing the disease, but it’s a relatively low risk factor. More than 75% of women who develop breast cancer didn’t show significant risk factors for the disease before their diagnoses.
You can learn more about your genetic risk for breast cancer or benign (noncancerous) breast disease with our Family Cancer Risk Program.
Screening mammograms are a vital tool for detecting breast cancer. However, a mammogram isn’t right for every woman. Younger women tend to have dense breasts, which can make it hard for a standard mammogram to spot lumps.
Talk to your doctor about your concerns. They can offer screening tips and ways to help lower your risk of breast disease.
Although many women find mammograms uncomfortable, few describe them as painful. We recommend scheduling your mammogram during the week before your period, when your breasts are less likely to be swollen and firm. Tell your mammogram imaging specialist if you experience any pain during your mammogram.
You should ask your doctor about your risk for breast cancer when you turn 40. Depending on your family or personal history with breast cancer or other cancers, you may need to start having a regular mammogram then.
You should start having regular mammograms no later than age 50. Once you start regular mammograms, you should schedule one every one or two years for as long as your provider recommends based on your medical conditions and personal preferences.
Learn more about mammograms and how to make a mammogram appointment.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes, women with dense breasts are at greater risk for breast cancer. This is because dense breasts are high in both fibrous tissue, which holds breast tissue in place, and glandular tissue, which includes the structures that make and carry breast milk to the nipple. Fibrous and glandular tissues look white on a mammogram, as do breast tumors, which means these tissues can hide small breast tumors.
About half of all women 40 and older have dense breasts. You are more likely to have dense breast tissue if you:
- Have a lower body weight
- Are on hormone replacement therapy
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding
- Are younger
A mammogram can show whether you have dense breasts. If you do, talk to your doctor about your risk for breast cancer and benign (noncancerous) breast disease. You and your doctor can decide whether you need additional testing, such as a breast ultrasound or breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Insurance does not always cover additional tests.
Many women ask us if the changes they notice are “bad enough” to require an exam from a breast specialist. However, that’s not what you should watch for. What you should watch for is whether something about your breasts is new, not whether it’s “bad.”
If you see or feel something during your regular self-check that is different than it was the previous month, see if it’s still there in two to three days. Changes in the breasts that go away in a day or two are common because of hormone levels during menstrual cycles. But if the changed area is still there in two to three days, you should call your doctor or call us at 413-794-8899 to schedule an appointment and get it checked.