Clearing up confusion about breast cancer screening.

Confused about when to get a mammogram?

Dr. Margaret Szabunio

Dr. Margaret Szabunio

When should you have your first mammogram? How often should you be screened?

There are a lot of different answers out there, and the result is confusion and frustration for many women. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we sat down with Dr. Margaret Szabunio, associate medical director of the UK Comprehensive Breast Care Center, to discuss why mammograms are so important and what she recommends.

How common is breast cancer?

Szabunio: One in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. Of these women, three in four will have no family history of breast cancer.

Why should women have mammograms?

Szabunio: Despite varying recommendations about timing and frequency, mammography remains the best method we have for finding breast cancer early at a curable stage. Since mammography screening became widespread in the 1990s, the U.S. breast cancer death rate has decreased by 30 percent.

When should women have their first mammogram?

Szabunio: You should have your first mammogram at age 40 and an annual screening every year after that. Why? Because it results in the greatest mortality reduction, the most lives saved and the most life years gained.

Your chances of getting breast cancer increase substantially around age 40. In fact, women ages 40-44 are twice as likely to develop the disease as women ages 35-39. One in six breast cancers occur in women age 40-49.

By not getting annual mammograms starting at age 40, you increase your chances of dying from breast cancer and the likelihood that you will experience more extensive and expensive treatment for any cancers found.

If you have a family history of breast cancer or you are otherwise at increased risk, let your doctor know and discuss the best screening plan for you.

Besides talking with their doctor about mammograms, what else can women do to prevent breast cancer?

Szabunio: A healthy lifestyle decreases risk for cancer and many other diseases. Eat a healthy diet low in fat with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and exercise regularly. Avoid alcohol and cigarettes, both of which increase the risk for breast and other cancers.

But remember, even women with a healthy lifestyle may develop breast cancer, and there is no substitute for screening mammography to find cancers early and reduce deaths from breast cancer.


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