Young women: When to consider early mammograms

Archive, January, Month

Guidelines suggest starting the screening at 40, but there are reasons to start earlier.

Long known as the gold standard of cancer screenings, established national guidelines suggest women begin regular mammograms at age 40, or at least age 50, and continue the annual screening until 74.

With early treatment resulting from early detection, the 5-year survival rate for localized breast cancer is 99 percent.

And mammography is the only way to catch breast cancer in its earliest, most treatable stages.

But are there reasons to get a mammogram before age 40?

Under what conditions should a woman get a mammogram early?

Mammogram before the guideline

For some women, breast screenings can begin as early as 25 years old.

These instances occur when a young woman is determined to have a genetic mutation that increases the risk of them developing breast cancer.

The BRCA1 and BRAC2 (BReast Cancer) mutations are often inherited by women who have a family history of breast cancer.

If women are concerned (based on their family history), simple blood tests exist that can determine the existence of the mutated gene. It’s the result of this test that can determine if a woman should begin getting mammograms--

Young women should also take to their physicians about the prospect of starting early screenings if they have a family member who was diagnosed early with breast cancer.

Physicians may recommend screenings starting at 10 years prior to the age the relative was when she was diagnosed.

They should also talk with their physician if they experience breast lumps, nipple discharge, pain and changes to the skin on their breast.

Reducing the risk of breast cancer

Women being aware of their genetic risk and hereditary factors is key to determining if and when to start early screenings.

But there are preventive measures every woman can take to reduce their risk for developing breast cancer.

  • Maintain an optimal body weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Breastfeed children