Health, Age, And Risk Factors: When To Get A Mammogram

Mammograms, or breast x-rays, should be an important part of most woman's annual health screening. Here are general mammogram guidelines.

Disease prevention begins at a young age, while bodies are still in good health and we have time to change lifestyles to develop life-sustaining habits. One area of great concern for many women is reproductive health, and especially the breasts. Breast cancer strikes one in nine women, with increasing risk as we age. For an early diagnosis and better treatment of breast cancer, most doctors recommend a mammogram for women under certain conditions. A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray that helps to spot suspicious growths in breast tissue before they can be felt manually.

Who should get a mammogram? Here are a few common indicators, but check with your doctor to see if you are a candidate for a mammogram at this point in life:

1. Age. If you are over age 40, you may be advised to have a mammogram every year or two. Younger women with family histories of breast disease or who have had cancer in one or both breasts will probably be asked to have a mammogram before age 40. Cancer in younger women is often more aggressive and can spread rapidly, which is why early detection is important.

2. Family history. If a first-degree relative like a mother or sister has been diagnosed with breast cancer, your doctor may want you to start getting mammograms before you turn 40. While a minor percentage of breast cancer victims have close relatives with the disease, there seems to be a significant genetic risk among female family members that needs to be checked out earlier than in other women whose family members have not developed the disease.

3. Previous breast disorders. If you've already had breast cancer in one or both breasts, or if you have had benign lumps removed, or if you have fibrocystic disease, which is naturally occurring lumps in your breasts, especially with hormonal spies or associated with caffeine consumption, you may need to start getting mammograms. None of these factors automatically means you will get breast cancer, but they do point to conditions that need to be monitored in case cancer should develop along with the other growths.

4. Reproductive profile. If you've never had children, or had one or two children only, or had your children after age 30, or never nursed your children, you may be at a slightly increased risk for breast cancer. There are plenty of women who fit this description who will never get the disease, but factors like these can work with other risks to pose a greater threat.

5. Overall health. If you have not developed the habit of getting a physical examination every year or two, this may be a good time for you to ask your doctor for a comprehensive checkup, including a mammogram, to rule out possible undiagnosed conditions. Doctors prefer to have a baseline mammogram for comparison if suspicious lesions should show up in later x-rays.

Today a high percentage of women survive a breast cancer diagnosis. With many good treatments available, there is no reason to fear an x-ray or other investigative procedures. Simple lifestyle changes like exercise and not smoking can help to prevent breast cancer. Talk to your doctor about whether you should get a mammogram in the near future.

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