Let’s be honest, no one wants to think about cancer, it’s scary and frankly it’s just easier to pretend that it will never affect us. Even though it can be hard to think about, the best way to ensure we stay healthy is to be proactive about things like cancer screenings. For women this means knowing when to get your first mammogram.
What is A Mammogram?
A mammogram is an x-ray of your breasts used to detect early signs of breast cancer. They place your breast between two plastic plates that squeeze your breast while they take images. Granted, it’s not the most glamorous, but on certain occasions, there are more important things than glamour. Some women find that the pressure on the breast is uncomfortable, but the test is only a few moments so the discomfort is doesn’t last long.
When Should You Get Your First Mammogram?
When you get your first mammogram depends on multiple factors. These factors include your age, your risk factors, and whether or not you have symptoms (this can mean finding a lump). According to the American Cancer Society, it is recommended that any woman who is aged 40-45 can start annual mammograms. However, your doctor may advise you to get a mammogram and/or a breast MRI (breast scan more commonly used on those that are already diagnosed) as early as 25 if you are at a high risk for breast cancer or have other symptoms. If you are not high risk, then you should abide by the normal age recommendations so you do not receive unnecessary radiation.
What Makes You High Risk?
Some women are at a higher risk for breast cancer, and should get their first mammogram prior to the recommended age limit. You may be high risk if multiple women in your family had breast cancer, your personal health history includes certain cancers, or if you have certain genetic markers that increase your likelihood for breast cancer such as the BRCA gene, and if you ever find the dreaded lump. If you become symptomatic or find a lump, your doctor may wish to give you a mammogram or breast MRI right away.
Typically, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommends that high-risk patients between 25- 30 years old get an annual breast MRI, and those who are above 30 receive annual mammograms and potentially annual breast MRIs as well.
What Should You Do?
All of this information can be very overwhelming and it can be hard to know exactly where you fall. If you are worried that you might be high risk due to a family history of breast cancer, you should see your doctor to discuss early screening. They may send you to a genetic counselor who can help you understand your risk level, and even run genetic tests that will tell you if you are at an increased risk. Women should also do regular self-breast exams, they are an easy way for women to stay on top of their breast health. If you do find a lump, don’t freak out, most lumps are not cancerous, but you should make an appointment with your doctor to get it checked out. We love our boobs, and our healthy bodies that let us enjoy life, and the best way to keep doing that is by staying proactive about our health.
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