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Why have a mammogram?
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, other than skin cancer. The chance of developing invasive breast cancer at some time in a woman's life is about than 1 in 8 (12%). It is the second leading cause of cancer death in women after lung cancer.
Finding breast cancer at an early stage greatly improves your chances for successful treatment. Mammograms can help detect cancer before a woman can feel a lump in a self-exam, as well as cancers too small to feel during a clinical breast exam.
The best way to detect breast cancer as early as possible is with a high-quality mammogram in conjunction with a clinical breast exam. Women can also monitor their breast health in-between clinical visits with monthly breast self-exams.
The College of American Pathologists agrees with the screening guidelines of the American Cancer Society:
- All women 40 years and older should have annual mammograms, based on their physician’s recommendation. Women age 40 and older should continue to receive an annual mammogram, as long as they are in good health.
- Women between the ages of 20 and 39 should have a clinical breast exam (an examination performed by a physician or other health care provider) every three years. When they are 40 years old, they should begin having clinical breast exams every year.
- Breast self exam (BSE) is an option for women starting in their 20s. Women should be told about the benefits and limitations of BSE. Women should report any breast changes to their health professional right away.
Although the exact cause of breast cancer is unknown, there are known risk factors linked to the disease.
All women are at risk for breast cancer, and the chance of getting the disease increases as women get older.
Known risk factors:
- Gene mutations: About 5-10 percent of breast cancers are linked to mutations in certain genes.
- Family history: Women whose close blood relatives have breast cancer are at higher risk for getting the disease themselves. Having a mother, sister, or daughter with breast cancer nearly doubles a woman's risk.
- Personal history of breast cancer: Women with cancer in one breast have a higher chance of developing a new cancer (not just a recurrence of the earlier cancer) in another part of the same breast or in the other breast.
- Race: While Caucasian women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than African-American women, African-American women are more likely to die of breast cancer. Asian and Hispanic women have a lower risk of developing breast cancer.
- Dense breast tissue: Women with denser breast tissue (as seen on a mammogram) have more glandular tissue and less fatty tissue, and have a higher risk of breast cancer.
- History of breast biopsy: Certain types of abnormal breast biopsy results can be linked to a slightly higher risk for breast cancer.
- History of radiation treatment: Women who had chest area radiation treatment as children or young women have a significantly increased risk for breast cancer.
- Onset and end of menstrual periods: Women who began having periods before 12 years of age or who went through menopause after the age of 50 have a small increase in their risk for breast cancer. Women who have not had children or who had their first child after they were 30 years old also have a small increase in their risk for breast cancer.
Scheduling and having annual mammograms are important to you and your family. The College of American Pathologists will make every effort to remind you to schedule your examination with an e-mail or text message.