When Should You Begin Having a Mammogram?

All cancers are “silent killers” because most of them show no symptoms until they are advanced. Breast cancer falls into this category, even though there can be early signs:

  • Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no distinct lump is felt)
  • Skin irritation or dimpling (sometimes looking like an orange peel)
  • Breast or nipple pain.
  • Nipple retraction (turning inward)
  • Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin.
  • Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)

Health organizations recommend women (and men) do a monthly self examination beginning at age 18, but very few people actually do. The mammogram is an effective tool and scheduling it annually makes it a routine part of your wellness program.

But, when should you begin? Most physicians recommend beginning at age 40 but, just like prostate cancer testing, medical organizations have different recommendations based on past over treatment of breast cancer.

Take a look at the paragraph below from a WebMD article:

“Earlier testing also means more cancers will be found. That sounds like a good thing — you’d want to catch it, right? But some cancers grow so slowly that they’re unlikely to make you sick or even shorten your life span. The problem is that doctors don’t always know which ones will cause trouble and which won’t. So some women may get surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy that they don’t really need because doctors want to be cautious.”

The opposite of some is many. So we could rewrite that third sentence to read: But many cancers grow so quickly that they’re likely to make you sick or even shorten your life.

Our recommendation* is that women (and men) begin the self examination at 18 and women begin having an annual mammogram at age 40. Stay calm if the mammogram reveals an irregularity. It’s possible that it’s a benign issue.

If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, the next step is to begin learning about the disease. Visit our breast cancer resource page for links to information and organizations that can help you and your support team understand your breast cancer and the treatment options.

5% of all breast cancer occur in women younger than 40. Like all cancers, your best chance of beating the disease is early detection; self-examination and an annual mammogram beginning at age 40.

Next Step for Breast Exam

Read this Consumer Reports article on where to get you mammogram.

*The Cancer Journeys Foundations does not provide medical advice. If you believe you have a problem or are diagnosed with breast cancer, contact your doctor or medical care provider immediately.