Health Blog

The Who, What, When, Where, and Why of Mammograms

Mammograms are an essential tool in the early detection and prevention of breast cancer. Here's what you need to know about the who, what, when, where, and why of mammograms.

The Who

Mammograms are an essential tool in the early detection and prevention of breast cancer.  A mammogram is the best way to detect early breast cancer, and it is the only way to detect lumps or masses that are too small to be felt.  Mammograms are the greatest tool at our disposal for detecting and treating breast cancers early.  Here are a few things you need to know about mammograms.

Who Should get a Mammogram

The American Cancer Society recommends all women age 45-55, and of average risk for breast cancer, receive a screening mammogram every year and at least once every other year after age 55, but can elect to continue getting them every year after age 55.  They also recommend some women of average risk can elect to begin getting mammograms at age 40.  Women at high risk should get a screening mammogram every year.  Women who are considered to be at high risk for breast cancer include any of the following:

  • Those with a family history of breast cancer.
  • Those with a personal history of breast cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS), atypical ductal hyperplasia (ADH), or atypical lobular hyperplasia (ALH).
  • Those who had radiation therapy on their chest between 10 and 30 years of age.
  • Those with a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation.
  • Those who have not had genetic testing themselves, but who have a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) with a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation.
  • Those who have Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Cowden syndrome, or Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome, or have first-degree relatives with one of these syndromes.

What is a Mammogram

There are several different types of mammograms, but a mammogram is essentially an x-ray of the breast for the purpose of detecting tumors and abnormalities that could potentially be cancerous.  Today, almost all mammography done in the United States is digital as opposed to conventional, or film, mammography.  With conventional mammography, the breast image was saved on film.  Now, with digital mammography, the digital image is saved as a computer file, which allows doctors the ability to share the file or access it remotely, making it faster and easier to diagnose the image.

In addition to regular digital mammography, which produces a two dimensional image of the breast, there is now 3-D mammography or tomosynthesis.  3-D mammography uses low dose x-rays to take multiple images of the breast at different angles and uses special software to put them together into a 3-D image.  The 3-D images are believed to be superior to those from a traditional digital image which, it is hoped, will help catch more cancers and reduce unnecessary biopsies and follow-ups.  Screening trials are currently being done to compare tomosythesis with 2-D digital mammography.

When to get a Mammogram

The risk for breast cancer increases with age with over 89% of new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in women aged 45 and older.  It is for this reason the American Cancer Society recommends all women begin getting regular mammograms by age 45 if not by age 40.  The American Cancer Society has different recommendations on screening for women age 40-44, age 45-54, and age 55 and older.  Their complete recommendations can be found here.

The American Cancer Society also recommends scheduling your mammogram for about a week after your menstrual period, if possible.  Mammograms can be uncomfortable and sometimes painful.  Your breasts will be less swollen and tender a week after your menstrual period which means less pain and discomfort during the mammogram.

Where to get a Mammogram

The Breast Center at ImageCare can perform digital mammography, 3-D mammography (tomosynthesis), ultrasound, MRI guided biopsy and more. They have two convenient locations in Latham and Saratoga.  The radiologists at The Breast Center at ImageCare are sub-specialized in breast imaging, which means they are dedicated to breast cancer prevention in our community. Talk to your doctor about where to schedule your next screening mammogram.

The Breast Center at ImageCare
711 Troy-Schenectady Road, Suite 120
Latham, NY 12110
Phone: (518) 786-1600
The Breast Center at ImageCare – Saratoga
One West Avenue, Suite 140
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
Phone: (518) 584-5000
ImageCare Clifton Park
1783 Route 9, Suite 104
Clifton Park, NY 12065
Phone: (518) 836-2428
ImageCare Latham
711 Troy-Schenectady Road, Suite 114
Latham, NY 12110
Phone: (518) 786-1600
ImageCare Saratoga
One West Avenue, Suite 140
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
Phone: (518) 584-5000

Why Get a Mammogram

Mammograms save lives.  Mammography is the most effective tool available today for screening to find breast cancer.  Mammography correctly detects 87% of women who have breast cancer that would otherwise go undiagnosed.  The fact that Breast Cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States combined with the increased risk after age 45 and the overall effectiveness of mammograms is why every woman over 45 should get a yearly mammogram and why every woman over 40 should consider getting a screening mammogram every year.

Not all mammograms are routine screenings.  If you or your doctor feel a lump, or if you notice any change in the appearance or feel of your breasts, talk to your doctor about getting a diagnostic mammogram.  Symptoms such as changes in breast size and shape, a lump in the breast, swelling in the armpit, pain or swelling of the breast, nipple changes or discharge, as well as certain high risk factors may be reason for your doctor to recommend a diagnostic mammogram.

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