Who Needs to get Mammograms?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 January 2019
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The answer to this question is a bit complex, as mammograms are actually a topic of debate in the medical community. In some regions of the world, doctors feel that mammograms should only be performed as diagnostic procedures in specific circumstances, while in other regions, mammograms are recommended on a routine basis. You should probably talk the issue over with your doctor to determine what is best for you, although you may want to be aware that technology is constantly changing, and this may cause recommendations on when to get mammograms to change as well.

A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast tissue which is designed to identify abnormalities which could be benign or malignant tumors. After a mammogram is taken, it is interpreted by a radiologist, who may recommend a biopsy of an area of concern. Once a biopsy is taken, pathologists study it to see whether the growth was benign or malignant, and they will typically make a recommendation to your primary care physician based on their analysis.


In the United States, the National Cancer Institute recommends that all women over age 40 get mammograms every one to two years. Other health organizations in varying parts of the world recommend that women over age 50 get mammograms on a routine basis. Mammograms are also recommended for women who have a family history of cancer, especially cancers of the breast; if this is the case for you, you should talk with your physician about when to get mammograms.

All doctors agree that mammograms are only one part of breast care. An annual clinical breast exam to check for abnormalities is highly recommended, as are monthly self exams. If you do identify an abnormality on a self exam, make an appointment to see a doctor for a clinical breast exam; at this appointment, the doctor can decide whether or not to schedule you for a mammogram.

It is important to remember that getting mammograms will not prevent breast cancer. The goal is early detection, which could potentially save your life. However, mammograms are not infallible; it is possible to get mammograms which miss potentially cancerous material, and it is also possible to see a false positive on a mammogram. Some doctors have also expressed concerns about exposure to x-rays through mammograms, as x-rays have been linked with cancer. Some doctors also believe that mammograms are not very effective in pre-menopausal women, as they have dense breast tissue which can hide potential malignancies.



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