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Screening Mammograms: Why, When, and How Often?

Oct 01, 2023
Screening Mammograms: Why, When, and How Often?
“Schedule that mammogram!” We hear the message often, for good reason. The screening allows us to diagnose breast cancer in its earliest stages, but debate has surrounded when a woman’s first screening should happen and frequency. Learn more here.

We know you’ve heard it countless times — don’t skip your mammogram; early detection saves lives!

You keep hearing it because it’s true.

Since October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there’s no better time to remind women to schedule their mammograms and talk about why they’re such essential health screenings. 

Our Southdale OB/GYN providers work with you to determine when you should have your first mammogram, how often you should schedule them, and more.

Why is getting a mammogram critical?

Mammograms are vitally important screening tools for women because they allow for early detection of breast tumors — and the earlier we make a diagnosis, the better your chances of survival are. In fact, if you’re diagnosed with breast cancer in its earliest stages, the five-year survival rate is an encouraging statistic — close to 100%

Mammography is our most helpful diagnostic tool, and it involves using low-energy X-rays to create an image of the breast. This testing allows us to identify tumors and microcalcifications — calcium deposits in the breast that appear as tiny white spots on a mammogram. These microcalcifications are often benign (noncancerous) but can also be an early sign of breast cancer.

Catching a tumor early allows us to treat it before it can invade the lymph glands. Finding a tumor very early through mammography can prevent the need for what can be harsh treatments, such as chemotherapy. 

At what age should I get my first mammogram — and how frequently should I be screened?

Experts have debated this question over the years, and different respected institutions sometimes disagree with one another’s recommendations.

For example, the United States Preventive Task Force has been recommending baseline mammograms for women starting at age 50 since 2009 but now advises that women get their first mammograms at age 40, just as the American College of Radiology (ACR) has been advising for years.

The consensus now is that women at average risk for breast cancer should get their first mammograms at age 40. However, speak to your Southdale OB/GYN provider about your individual risk factors, such as having a family history of breast cancer, and how they impact when screening should start.

Another much-debated guideline is whether women should receive mammograms annually or every other year. Currently, the United States Preventive Task Force advises mammograms every other year, but most respected medical associations and institutions are proponents of yearly mammograms. These include the American College of Radiology, the American Cancer Society, and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. 

An annual mammogram increases the likelihood of finding a tumor early when it’s most treatable. 

Southdale OB/GYN adheres to these guidelines for average-risk patients, but we consider the specific risk factors that impact you, from your age and family history of breast cancer to lifestyle factors and certain postmenopausal hormone therapies.

Comprehensive, convenient mammography services

Because Southdale OB/GYN partners with CRL Imaging (located next door to our Edina office), we can offer a robust range of breast imaging services, including screening mammography. Our relationship with CRL Imaging means you have access to two top-notch specialty care practices that provide a complete range of diagnostic testing and individualized care. 

When you schedule your mammogram with CRL Imaging, please note with them that you’re also a Southdale OB/GYN patient. If you’ve had breast imaging done at other facilities in the past, let them know that, too, so they can gather all available imaging. 

If our Burnsville office is your preferred Southdale location, we offer mammography services in-office there and use the state-of-the-art Hologic The Genius 3D Mammography exam. 

This exam is superior to 2D screenings in that it detects more breast cancers, finds them earlier, and yields fewer false positives (when a mammogram is earmarked as abnormal, but there is, in reality, no breast cancer present). The screening process remains the same though: Your technologist positions your breast on the machine, which compresses your breast and records many breast images from various angles, which a radiologist interprets.

At Southdale OB/GYN, our caring and experienced team is eager to meet your breast care and screening needs. Call our Edina or Burnsville office to schedule an appointment, or request one online.