A mammogram screening is an imaging test used to look for early stages of breast cancer. We offer this imaging test at Shenandoah Women’s Healthcare in Harrisonburg, VA because we are passionate about women’s health. While many women understand that it’s important to be screened for breast cancer regularly, it is not uncommon for women to not know when they should start coming in for screening. That’s what we’re talking about today.
What’s the Best Age to Start Getting Mammograms?
If you are a woman with an average risk of developing breast cancer, you should get your first mammogram when you are between 40 and 50 years of age. After your first breast X-ray, you should come in annually through the age of 54. After that, it is generally advisable to come in every other year for additional screening.
According to the CDC, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, or NCCN, recommends high risk women get screened for breast cancer annually between the ages of 25 and 40. Moreover, women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation or a first-degree relative with one of the aforementioned mutations should strongly consider clinical breast exams once or twice per year starting at the age of 25.
Who Doesn’t Have an Average Risk of Developing Breast Cancer?
There are several factors that can increase your risk of developing breast cancer. Some of these, like having a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, you cannot influence. As another example, you can’t do anything about receiving radiation therapy to the chest when you were in your 20s or younger. Other significant risk factors include having a medical history that includes:
- Atypical hyperplasia
- Lobular carcinoma in situ
- Breast cancer
Depending on your age, you may have a higher than average risk of developing breast cancer due to DES exposure. This drug was administered between 1940 and 1971 to some pregnant women. If your mom was pregnant during this time, ask her if she was given this medication while she was gestating. Your risk of developing breast cancer is also greater in women who began menarche prior to age 12 or started menopause after the age of 55.
What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk of Breast Cancer?
Get More Cardio
Research shows that having a body mass index exceeding 24.9 after menopause or a sedentary lifestyle greatly increases the likelihood that you develop breast cancer. If either of these risk factors apply to you, getting 2.5 to five hours of moderate cardio weekly will go a long way in risk reduction. Regardless of your age, if you have a sedentary job or don’t work, do your best to take a 30-minute walk most days.
Depending on your schedule, it may be easier for you to take multiple 10- or 15-minute walks. As long as you’re getting the recommended amount of cardio each week, it doesn’t matter how you break it up. Consistency is critical. If you have an active job, you don’t need to make a point to get cardio most days. If you are overweight or obese and postmenopausal, talk to your doctor about how you can safely and effectively get your BMI down to 24.9.
An Additional Helpful Weight Loss Tip
Cardio can be great for weight loss, but you shouldn’t forget to consider your diet. Avoiding processed foods and carbohydrates will help with weight loss.
Watch Your Alcohol Consumption
You can also significantly decrease your breast cancer risk by watching your alcohol intake. You should not consume more than a unit of alcohol per day. If you usually drink more than seven units of alcohol weekly and struggle with your weight, you will probably find weight loss easier.
The less alcohol you consume daily, the more likely it is that you will wake up hydrated, well-nourished, and clear-headed. Therefore, it is more likely that you will have the mental clarity and physical and mental energy necessary to make healthy choices conducive to weight loss. Furthermore, your weekly calorie consumption will decrease. This decrease will add up week after week to significant weight loss over time.
Unfortunately, reproductive history is a strong breast cancer risk factor. For example, becoming pregnant for the first time after age 30 and not breastfeeding increases the risk of this disease. If you wait until after 30 to become pregnant, reduce your breast cancer risk by breastfeeding if you can.
Consider Your Birth Control Method Carefully
If you have breast cancer risk factors you can’t control, you should strongly consider using a contraceptive that is free from estrogen. For instance, if you take a birth control pill that contains both estrogen and progesterone, you may want to look into having an IUD implanted. Alternatively, you may want to consider a dermal patch or injection that does not contain estrogen.
What Breast Cancer Signs Should I Look Out for?
At first, breast cancer may not cause any symptoms. In fact, it is rare for symptoms to be present during the first three years of the disease progression. Once the disease has progressed unchecked for long enough, you may start to notice changes to your breast skin, like dimpling or irritation. You also may notice a lump in your breast or underarm area. Other signs you may have breast cancer include:
- Breast pain
- Nipple pain
- Bloody nipple discharge
How Should I Prepare for My Mammogram?
Prior to your breast X-ray, you will need to shave your armpits. You may not apply antiperspirant, lotion, cream, powder, or deodorant to your underarms. Additionally, you should not apply any cosmetics, like moisturizer, to your breasts. You may wear whatever you want to your appointment, but we recommend comfy pants or shorts because you will need to be topless during your breast imaging.
Women who are still menstruating should strongly consider scheduling their breast X-ray for shortly after their menstrual period has ended. Some women experience breast discomfort during X-rays in the seven days preceding menses or during menses. If you don’t usually experience breast pain or discomfort around this time, this consideration may not apply to you.
What Should I Expect During My Screening?
Before your screening begins, you will be asked to remove all clothing above the waist. For your comfort, you may wear a wrap. Once you’re dressed appropriately for your screening, your left breast will be placed on a plastic plate. Above this, a plastic plate will flatten it and keep it in place while a horizontal X-ray image of your breast is captured. Then, a vertical X-ray image of your left breast will be captured.
Once that’s done, the process will be repeated on your right breast. Then, our X-ray technician will review all four images to ensure that they are clear. If they are, you are free to go home. Certain types of breast implants and other factors can affect the clarity of the images captured. You should not expect to get the results of your screening on the same day as your breast X-rays.
Do I Need to Worry About Abnormal Images?
One out of 10 women who undergo screening have abnormal-looking breasts. There are many reasons why this may be the case, including dense breast tissue, non-cancerous tumors, and cysts. Depending on how your images look, you may need to come back in for more X-rays. In only one or two out of 100 cases, a biopsy is necessary.
Note that even if a biopsy is recommended, you may not have breast cancer. Only 20% of women who have their breast biopsied have a malignant tumor. You should also note that 3D mammography is a great biopsy alternative if 2D mammography images indicate an abnormality. The images captured with 3D mammography are extremely detailed because they are done millimeter by millimeter. This doesn’t take much longer than 2D mammography.
Schedule Your Appointment Today
For a woman with an average risk of developing breast cancer, mammogram screenings should start between the ages of 40 and 50. If your risk of developing breast cancer is above average, the NCCN recommends an annual breast X-ray screening starting at the age of 25. Contact us today at Shenandoah Women’s Healthcare in Harrisonburg, VA to schedule your appointment if it is time for you to be screened for breast cancer.