When and How Often Do You Need a Mammogram?

Turning 40 is a milestone birthday that is often associated with transformation and reflection, as many consider this to be a life-changing birthday. It’s also the time most health care professionals recommend that women begin screening for breast cancer with a mammogram.

“My recommendation is the earlier the better, so I advocate for my patients to begin their mammogram screening at the age of 40,” said Aubrey Chartier, DO, resident at McLaren Greater Lansing Family Medicine. “However, you can wait until age 45.”

That recommended age for your first mammogram may vary if you have a family history of breast cancer or if you have tested positive for a specific gene mutation that indicates you may be at a higher risk for breast cancer, such as BRCA.

“If you are genetically testing positive, your doctor will give you a recommendation on when to begin your mammograms,” said Dr. Chartier. “If you have a family history of breast cancer, typically your doctor will recommend you begin getting mammogram screenings 5-10 years before when your family member was diagnosed with breast cancer.”

According to the American Cancer Society, women ages 45-54 should receive a mammogram every year until they turn 55. Once they are 55, they have the choice to get screened every year or every two years.

“I also follow the more conservative guidelines when it comes to how often my patients are getting mammograms and I recommend having one done every year,” said Dr. Chartier.

A mammogram screening appointment can take 30 minutes; however, the actual time your breast is under compression is only about 10-15 seconds.

“While it may not be the most comfortable procedure, it should not be painful to get a mammogram,” said Dr. Chartier. “If you experience pain during the screening, be sure to communicate your concerns with the tech that is providing the screening.”

There are two types of mammography; a 2D mammogram and a 3D mammogram. A 2D mammogram offers a two-dimensional picture of the breast, while a 3D mammogram uses multiple low-dose X-ray images from different angles to create a complete picture of the breast that allows the radiologist to view the tissue in slices. A 3D mammogram may be ordered for women who have dense breast tissue; these may be more effective at identifying abnormalities than a standard 2D mammogram.   

“Mammography is one of the easiest and earliest screenings for cancers. As with many cancers, the earlier you detect it, the smaller it is, and the easier it is to treat,” said Dr. Chartier. “We found during COVID that people were delaying their routine care, including cancer screenings, and because of this we are finding cancers in later stages. It’s important that everyone get their routine cancer screenings.”

The MSU Health Care at McLaren Greater Lansing Breast Imaging Center offers online scheduling and same or next-day appointments. The center also offers ultrasound of the breast, ultrasound-guided biopsies, stereotactic biopsies, and bone density screening to offer patients a full range of imaging services.