When it comes to mammograms, timing does matter.

Though the procedure may be familiar, understanding exactly when to get a mammogram can be confusing. One of our specialties is high-quality imaging for women, so we wanted to help clarify the matter.

Early Detection Improves Outcomes

“Breast cancer that’s found early, when it’s small and has not spread, is easier to treat successfully,” the American Cancer Society assures.

Experts at the CDC agree: “Mammography is the most effective method of detecting breast cancer in its earliest and most treatable stage.”

Conducting mammograms regularly became common practice in the mid-1970s, and, since 1989, breast cancer death rates have dropped 40%. A 2006 study by the Swedish Organised Service Screening Evaluation Group also concluded that regular breast cancer screenings reduced breast cancer mortality by 39%.

As early as January 2021, Cancer Research UK also asserted, “Almost all women diagnosed with breast cancer at the earliest stage survive their disease for at least 5 years.”

In short: regular mammography screening is one of the best methods for early detection (and therefore the best treatment).

So, when to get one?

“Whether you need a mammogram is a personal decision between you and your doctor,” WebMD professionals acknowledge.

But if you’re over 40 and of average risk, we encourage you to talk to your doctor about beginning mammogram screening. Ultimately, the decision depends on your individual desires and risk factors, but there are some suggested milestones from the American Cancer Society:

  • Women ages 40 to 44 have the choice to start breast cancer screening every year.
  • Women aged 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
  • Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years or can continue yearly screening per their choice.

This routine remains recommended until patients reach the age of 75. “At that point,” Rachel Freedman, MD, MPH tells Cancer.Net, “whether a woman continues to have mammograms depends on thoughtful discussion between the woman and her health care team about what is appropriate for her specific situation.”

Research encourages keeping it up, even if you’re doubtful. “[W]omen who skipped even one scheduled mammography screening before a breast cancer diagnosis,” a 2021 study published in Radiology found, “faced a significantly higher risk of dying from the cancer.”

Prepping for the pressing

If you’re delaying the screening out of unease, you’re not alone. “Discomfort during mammography screenings is one of the top reasons why women avoid them,” Everyday Health acknowledges.

But the temporary displeasure now might prevent more distress later.

“Think of yourself as a soldier going to war against the dastardly army of breast cancer and your lieutenant is none other than that tiny tart from Tennessee – Dolly Parton,” Lana Hanson spicily encourages in Hormones Matter.

There are also several things you and your screening technologist can do to make the process more comfortable:

  • Take deep breaths to help you relax. Tension in your body and your mind can exacerbate even the smallest stress.
  • Consider your timing. “Schedule the mammogram for the week after a menstrual period. During and immediately before a period, hormonal swings can increase breast sensitivity,” Medical News Today recommends. 
  • If you have breast implants, discuss what might be needed to accommodate accurate imaging.
  • Keep in mind that your technologist is here to help, not to hurt. They want to know about your discomfort — and help alleviate it — as much as you do, so talk to them honestly about any pain or awkwardness.

Because of the importance of early screening, we encouraged patients to keep up with their annual appointments even during the peak of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Our team is here every day to make the process as painless (and pleasant) as possible. Call (502) 429-6500 to schedule your appointment, or explore more of our services on our website.