When to get that first mammogram – it might be younger than you think

When to get that first mammogram – it might be younger than you think

When most women turn 40, scheduling a first mammogram should be top of mind. But for some, doctors say, it’s important to start even younger.

Dr. Gale England, breast surgeon at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital, said knowing family history and having a regular relationship with a physician are key to determining when the time is right to get that first mammogram screening. For most women, she recommends an annual mammogram after turning 40.

“There are some instances where you want to do it sooner than 40,” England said, adding that mammograms younger than age 25 aren’t as useful due to typically more dense breast tissue.

If someone has a family history or carries a gene that could lead to breast cancer, they should be screened younger than 40, she said.

England said she and other physicians can calculate a woman’s risk using equations that consider these factors to help suggest a good time to start mammograms. As a general rule, if a woman has had a “first-degree relative,” like a mother or a sister with a history of breast cancer, she should start annual mammograms 10 years prior to when her relative was diagnosed, England said.

Knowing a patient’s risk also helps when determining the type of screening. A woman who carries a higher risk might also require an annual MRI, she said.

England also pointed out that a continuous relationship and open dialogue with a primary care physician or an OBGYN is an important part of assessing breast cancer risk and staying on track with screening. Every patient’s situation is unique.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, England said she’s noticed many women are off track for their health appointments, including mammograms.

“A lot of women are understandably off track,” England said. “Last year things were closed, people were afraid. But it’s important to get back on a schedule or make an appointment for your first mammogram if appropriate.

“We know mammograms greatly reduce breast cancer mortality,” she added. “We catch it when it’s smaller and more easily treatable. It’s so important.”

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and now more than ever is an important time to talk and learn about prevention. Take a breast health assessment or schedule a mammogram.

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About the Author

Kate Thayer
Kate Thayer

Kate Thayer, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator with Advocate Health Care. She spent nearly two decades as a journalist, most recently as a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. Throughout her career, Kate has written about public health, politics, government, education and legal issues, along with human interest stories. She enjoys running, podcasts and her twin daughters.