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Mammograms: How Important and How Often?

Breast cancer touches the lives of many women, including those who have had the disease or know someone who has had it. It is extremely important that all women be aware of their risks and take the proper preventive steps, starting with a mammogram.  

A mammogram is an X-ray that takes a picture of the breast tissue to look for abnormalities. Screening mammograms normally involve two X-ray pictures of each breast that are able to detect tumors too small to be felt. Mammograms can also be used to check for breast cancer after a lump or other sign or symptom of the disease has been found. This type of mammogram is called a diagnostic mammogram.

The benefit of having a screening mammogram is that if breast cancer is found early, treatment can begin immediately before the disease spreads to other areas. The American Cancer Society recommends that women age 40 and older should have a mammogram every year. Those women at a higher risk should talk with their healthcare providers about whether they should have mammograms before the age of 40 and how frequently.

Research shows that as a woman gets older, her risk of developing breast cancer increases. The American Cancer Society states that risk factors that can increase a woman’s likelihood of breast cancer include:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Family History
  • Personal History
  • Race and Ethnicity
  • Breast Tissue Density
  • Certain Benign Breast Conditions
  • Menstrual Periods
  • Previous Chest Radiation
  • Alcohol Intake
  • Lack of Physical Activity
  • Being Overweight or Obese

“The importance of having an annual mammogram is that it can help detect early stages of breast cancer,” says Thomas Matulewski M.D., medical director of the Center for Breast Health at Delaware County Memorial Hospital. “When it’s detected early, more treatment options are available.”

Unfortunately, there will be those select few who feel that having a mammogram is not necessary. They may think, “Breast cancer does not run in my family, so what’s the point?” Just because there isn’t a family history of breast cancer, does not mean that it can’t happen. “Early diagnosis means heading down the route of better treatment and a longer, healthier life,” Matulewski says. 

“Mammograms are important because they detect early breast cancer,” says Mary Lou Patton, M.D., American College of Surgeons liaison for the Crozer Regional Cancer Center. “If there is a strong family history, it would be beneficial to see a geneticist or a breast surgeon – they can determine the appropriate time for a mammogram. Women with a genetic mutation (BRCA1) that indicates a strong predisposition to develop breast cancer may require a mammogram and MRI at the age of 25 and yearly thereafter, along with breast examinations by a physician as often as every six months accompanied by monthly self-examination. For every 100 women with breast cancer, there is one man diagnosed, and they, too, are at increased risk if there is a strong family history or genetic mutation.”

Going to your gynecologist or midwife for regular annual examinations should be another part of your “good health plan.” You annual checkup will include an examination of your breasts, and a discussion with your healthcare provider about any changes in your health or concerns since your last visit. Monthly Breast Self Exams (BSEs) are also encouraged.

Crozer-Keystone performs over 22,700 mammograms a year. To request an appointment for an imaging appointment at any Crozer-Keystone Health System facility, call 1-866-5-CK-XRAY (1-866-525-9729). For more information about breast health services, visit Crozer-Keystone Breast Health Services.


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