An annual screening mammogram is recommended for women age 40 and older. The
American Cancer Society, American College of Radiology, and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists each support this recommendation. Annual screening mammography detects breast cancer at its earlier stages. This makes treating the cancer easier and has been proven effective in decreasing the number of deaths associated with breast cancer.
A typical mammogram consists of two X-rays of each breast. In all four X-rays, the breast is compressed firmly between two plates. The breast compression and positioning that occurs during the procedure or exam is necessary in order to acquire the best possible visualization of breast tissue.
Screening Mammography is used to detect breast changes in women who have no signs, symptoms or observable breast abnormalities. The goal is to detect cancer before any clinical signs are noticeable. This usually requires at least two scans from different angles of each breast.
Diagnostic Mammography is used to investigate suspicious breast changes, such as a breast lump, an unusual skin appearance, nipple thickening or nipple discharge. It is also used to evaluate abnormal findings on a screening mammogram. Additional images can be made from other angles or focus on areas of concern at higher magnification. A diagnostic mammogram takes longer than a screening mammogram because it requires additional scans in order to obtain more comprehensive images. Ultrasound may also be used in conjunction with mammography to investigate any areas of concern.
Family History and Breast Cancer
Some women have an increased risk of developing breast cancer and should start annual screening mammography at an earlier age. This group includes women with a strong family history of breast cancer, especially a mother or sister with breast cancer before menopause. Some women have a genetic mutation (BRCA) which increases the risk of breast cancer.
The American College of Radiology and the Society of Breast Imaging recommend these women should begin screening mammograms by age 30 and as early as age 25. Talk to your health care provider if you think you may be at an increased risk for breast cancer.
Frequently Asked Questions