Mammography: Answers to common questions

When to start, the benefits and what to do if you have implants or small breasts.

By: Sanford Health News .

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Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in women. One way to catch breast cancer early is to get a mammogram. Andrea Kaster, M.D., and Allison Clapp, M.D., answer some basic questions about mammograms.

When should I get my first mammogram?

We recommend starting screening mammograms at 40 years of age for the average risk person. If you are at high risk for breast cancer, you may need to start screening at an earlier age. If you are unsure if you are at high risk for breast cancer, a primary care provider or breast specialist can use a risk calculator to determine your individual level of risk.

What are benefits of mammograms?

Screening mammograms allow detection of breast cancer at an earlier stage which decreases the amount of treatment needed to cure breast cancer and/or reduces risk of death from breast cancer.

Are mammograms painful?

Mammograms can cause discomfort due to the compression that is applied. The compression is necessary to obtain adequate images to evaluate for breast cancer. If you experience discomfort, over-the-counter Tylenol or Ibuprofen before your exam may help.

How often do I have to have a mammogram?

We encourage women to discuss this with the primary doctor as many factors go into when and how often to have mammograms. The general guideline is yearly after age 40.

How much radiation exposure am I getting?

The radiation dose from mammograms is quite low and varies depending on the size, thickness and density of your breast.

When can I stop having mammograms?

We recommend yearly until a patient’s life expectancy is less than 10 years. 

Do women with implants need mammograms?

Yes. Women with implants need yearly mammograms. Implants require additional images to be obtained. Images with the implants in the image and with the implants displaced against the chest wall will be obtained.

If I have small breasts do I still need a mammogram?

All women who have breasts need mammograms regardless of the size of their breasts.

Should I worry if I get called back for more imaging?

Most women who get called back for additional imaging do not have breast cancer and do not need a breast biopsy. Even most women who undergo biopsy do not have breast cancer.

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Posted In Cancer, Health