Allyson Jacobson, M.D.
Medical Director, NCH Breast Program
There’s a huge push during October to help people focus on breast health, breast cancer, and the importance of mammograms. But the truth is, a lot of us would rather wear pink and support breast cancer awareness than have a mammogram.
As the medical director of the Breast Program at NCH, I want to set the record straight about screening mammograms. There is so much information out there! When I googled “mammograms,” I received more than three million results. No wonder there’s some confusion.
It’s so important for women to understand the benefits of a yearly mammogram. Mammograms can show changes in the breast up to two years before a woman or her doctor can feel them. And, when it comes to treating cancer, earlier is better. Smaller is better.
The recommendations for screening mammograms vary based on a woman’s age:
Under 30: Mammograms are not recommended, even for women with known risk factors (such as being a carrier of the BRCA gene mutation). MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging), which do not emit radiation, are a better alternative for young women with risk factors.
Thirty-somethings: If you are in your 30s and have known high risk factors for breast cancer an MRI and mammogram may be recommended.
The big 4-0: Starting at age 40, women should get a yearly mammogram, according to the guidelines of the American Cancer Society, American College of Radiology and the Society for Breast Imaging. If you are a woman over 40 with dense breasts, you should talk to your doctor about having a screening ultrasound in addition to your annual mammogram. This type of screening is able to see things that can go unnoticed on a mammogram.
Nifty fifties and beyond: A yearly mammogram is recommended. Mammograms have been shown to lower the risk of dying from breast cancer by 35 percent in women over 50. Also, there is no specific end point recommended for when you should stop having a mammogram. If your life expectancy is more than five years, you should have a mammogram.
Regardless of your age: If you find a breast lump, experience a different symptom or notice a change in your breast during a self-exam, your doctor may recommend a mammogram.
If you have questions about the value of an annual screening mammogram, talk with your doctor. It’s true that mammograms can still miss 20 percent of breast cancers; however, when used with other methods such as self-exams, clinical exams and possibly an ultrasound or MRI, they are valuable screening tools that help save lives.
To make an appointment for a mammogram at NCH, call 847-618-3700.