Who should get a mammogram?
The American College of Radiology (ACR) recommends annual mammographic screening beginning at age 40 for women of average risk. Higher-risk women should start mammographic screening earlier and may benefit from supplemental screening modalities. For women with genetics-based increased risk (and their untested first-degree relatives), with a calculated lifetime risk of 20% or more or a history of chest or mantle radiation therapy at a young age, supplemental screening with contrast-enhanced breast MRI is recommended.
Breast MRI is also recommended for women with personal histories of breast cancer and dense tissue, or those diagnosed by age 50. Others with histories of breast cancer and those with atypia at biopsy should consider additional surveillance with MRI, especially if other risk factors are present. Ultrasound can be considered for those who qualify for but cannot undergo MRI. All women, especially black women and those of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, should be evaluated for breast cancer risk no later than age 30, so that those at higher risk can be identified and can benefit from supplemental screening.
How safe are they?
As with all X-rays, mammography involves limited exposure to radiation—however, the amount required to complete the process is small. Because of advances in mammography at large, the radiation dose required for mammographic X-rays has been dramatically reduced over the years.
What are the risks for developing breast cancer?
The main risk to developing breast cancer is simply being a woman—female hormones may attribute to the stimulation of breast cancer growth. The best way to determine your risk level is to consult your physician, however age, genetics, family history, personal history, race, and several other factors may play into measuring your overall risk.
What are the signs and symptoms of breast cancer?
In many instances, there are no warning signs of breast cancer. Breast cancer may, however, appear as a new lump or mass in your breast tissue. A painless, hard mass with irregular edges is more likely to be cancerous, but some cancerous masses are tender, soft, and rounded. Other signs of breast cancer include generalized swelling of breast tissue, skin irritation or dimpling, nipple pain or retraction (turning inward), redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin, or discharge (excluding breast milk). Sometimes breast cancer can spread to underarm lymph nodes even before the original tumor in the breast tissue is large enough to be felt.
How can I learn more about breast cancer?
To learn more about breast cancer, its causes and related symptoms, and possible routes of treatment, see the following sources: