7 Important Reasons to Get Your Mammogram

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Alexander King MDWomen in America have a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer over their lifetime. Early detection offers the best hope for catching a cancer early when chances for a cure are highest.

“Breast cancer screening and early detection save lives,” says Alexander King, MD, Regional Director of Breast Radiology for RWJBarnabas Health Southern Region, which encompasses Monmouth Medical Center, Monmouth Medical Center Southern Campus and Community Medical Center. “Physician organizations agree that annual screening mammography, beginning at age 40, will save the most lives.”

  1. You can get breast cancer even if it doesn’t run in the family.
    “The most common misconception I hear from women is, ‘I don’t have a family history of breast cancer; therefore, I don’t need screening,’” says Dr. King. But 75 percent of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer don’t have a significant family history, he says.

    That said, having a family history does elevate breast cancer risk. Plus, you can have an elevated risk due to inherited mutations in certain genes, including BRCA1 or BRCA2, which are especially common among certain populations such as Ashkenazi Jews and Black women.
     
  2. You have dense breasts.
    Breasts that contain a lot of fibrous or glandular tissue and little fat are considered dense. Dense breasts increase your risk for breast cancer, making regular mammograms particularly important.

    Women with dense breasts sometimes require additional types of screening, says Dr. King. “They’re more likely to hide a cancer in their breast where a mammogram, which is a type of X-ray, might not see it,” he says. “An ultrasound of dense breasts may detect breast cancers that are not seen on a mammogram.” Ask your doctor or radiologist if your breasts are dense and whether you would benefit from supplemental screening.
     
  3. You’re getting older.
    Like many other health issues, your risk for breast cancer rises with age. Most breast cancers are diagnosed after age 40. “For every year that you live, you’re more likely to develop breast cancer in the next year,” says Dr. King.
     
  4. You are African American.
    African American women are more likely to die from breast cancer when compared to white women of similar age. One reason is that, due to lower screening rates, their cancers are often caught at later stages, says Dr. King.

    In addition to being under-screened, African American women tend to have more aggressive types of breast cancer, particularly triplenegative breast cancer (a type of cancer not fueled by the hormones estrogen and progesterone or the HER2 protein), for which there are fewer effective treatment options, says Dr. King.

    African American women are also twice as likely as non-Jewish white women to have dangerous BRCA gene mutations. Better outcomes start with regular mammograms.
     
  5. A mammogram may detect other issues.
    Besides finding cancer, breast imaging can reveal other health problems that you and your doctor need to know about. “You can find breast abscesses on mammography and ultrasound,” says Dr. King. “Occasionally, we also diagnose lymphoma on a screening mammogram.”
     
  6. You started menstruation early— or menopause late.
    Having your first menstrual period before age 12 or starting menopause after age 55 both increase your risk for breast cancer. That’s because they increase your lifetime exposure to estrogen. “In addition, never being pregnant and having your first child after age 30 increase your lifetime risk,” Dr. King says.
     
  7. You skipped your mammogram last year.
    Many people postponed checkups and screenings during the COVID-19 pandemic to avoid exposure to the virus at healthcare facilities. But the longer a breast cancer has had an opportunity to grow, the more dangerous it becomes. “The size of your cancer is a big determinant of your long-term survival,” says Dr. King. If it’s been more than a year since your last mammogram, be sure to book an appointment.