When it comes to mammograms, it’s important to remember that recommendations aren’t one-size-fits-all. As with all medical procedures, you should talk to your doctor about it and make a decision based on your personal medical history and risk level. If you’re concerned about when to start regular mammogram screenings, talk to your OBGYN during your next visit.
What Is Mammogram Screening?
A mammogram is an X-ray of your breast tissue used to look for early signs of breast cancer. Regular mammograms are the best way to detect breast cancer in its early stages while it’s still treatable.
When you get a mammogram, you will stand in front of an X-ray machine with your breast placed on a special plastic plate. A second plate will be lowered to hold your breast in place while the X-ray is taken. This is repeated for both breasts.
Many women experience a small amount of discomfort when their breasts are compressed between the plates. This discomfort should only last a moment. Try not to move, or you may have to have the X-rays retaken. If you’re worried about the pain, try to schedule your mammogram a few weeks before your period or right after to avoid the tenderness that often comes with PMS.
In addition to traditional 2D mammography X-rays, there is also the option of 3D digital mammography screening. These 3D images are taken in much the same way, but with more accurate results. 3D digital mammography has been found to reduce false-positive results and detect slightly more cancers than a 2D mammogram alone.
Instead of using screen-film, digital mammography uses solid-state detectors—much like the machinery found in a digital camera. This converts the x-rays into electrical signals which can be seen on a computer screen.
Although they are becoming more and more common, 3D digital mammograms aren’t available everywhere. If you’re interested in this form of mammogram, find a doctor or clinic near you that has the necessary equipment.
When To Start Breast Cancer Screenings
The American Cancer Society recommends that you start getting annual mammograms at the age of 45. The American College of Radiology and Society of Breast Imaging recommends that you undergo risk screening at the age of 30 to see if earlier screening is right for you. Otherwise, they suggest starting regular mammograms at age 40.
The Mayo Clinic suggests starting at age 40 because early detection has been shown to reduce the risk of dying of breast cancer.
If you have risk factors or a family history of breast cancer, it may be wise to start screening earlier rather than later. Risk factors for breast cancer include:
- Age—most breast cancer is diagnosed after age 50
- Genetic mutations
- Early menstrual period (started before age 12)
- Having dense breasts
- Previous diagnosis of breast cancer
- Family history of breast cancer
- Previous radiation therapy
- Use of the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES)—commonly prescribed to women between 1940 and 1971 to prevent miscarriage
- Being overweight or obese
- Taking hormone replacement therapy
- Being on hormonal birth control
- Drinking alcohol
If any of these risk factors apply to you, talk to your doctor about when to start mammogram screenings.
Self Breast Exam
A self-breast exam is—as the name suggests—an examination of your breasts that you can perform on your own. The purpose of these exams is to familiarize yourself with the natural feel of your breast tissue so you can better recognize any sudden changes or unusual growths.
While this is not an incredibly reliable way to detect breast cancer on its own, when performed alongside regular mammograms and in-clinic breast exams, self-exams can help detect breast cancer in its early stages and prevent death.
First, stand shirtless in front of a mirror and examine your breasts visually. Look for:
- Inverted nipples
- Puckering or dimpling that wasn’t there before
- Changes in symmetry
- Visible lumps
Next, lie down on a flat surface and use the pads of your fingers to lightly press into your breast tissue in a circular pattern. Cover the whole breast, looking for unusual lumps or bumps. If you find a lump in one breast, make an appointment with your doctor to have a mammogram performed.
Where to Get a Mammogram
You can get a mammogram at a hospital or any clinic that has the proper equipment. For the comfort and convenience of their patients, many OBGYN clinics now offer mammograms as a part of their reproductive care services.
The Woman’s Clinic offers 3D digital mammogram screenings for women of all ages. Contact us for more information.
How Much Does a Mammogram Cost?
If you have health insurance, many plans cover annual breast exams for women over the age of 40 as preventative care. If you are younger than 40, you may still be able to have part of the exam covered by insurance if you have high-risk factors or if you have a test and procedures co-pay. To find out if your insurance covers mammograms, contact your insurance provider.
If you do not have insurance there are several options available to you. The first is private pay. Depending on the clinic and the type of mammography, a mammogram may cost anywhere between $100 and $300. If you can afford it and you prefer having your mammogram performed by your own doctor, this may be the best option.
If you cannot afford to pay for a mammogram out of pocket, there are low-cost and free options available to you. Find out if you’re eligible to receive a mammogram through the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP). They provide funding for local screening programs throughout the U.S.
Mammograms Near Me
If you are looking for a mammogram clinic in Little Rock, AR, contact The Woman’s Clinic. We offer 3D digital mammography in-house for the comfort and convenience of our patients.