The American Cancer Society encourages women to get a mammogram every year from the time they are 40 years old. Between the ages of 20 and 39, mammograms should occur every three years. This is especially important if you know that you are at high risk of getting breast cancer so it can be detected as early as possible. If your doctor knows that you have a family history or the breast cancer gene, they should be especially thorough in order to make sure they can detect breast cancer at the first possible moment.
There are several types of mammograms that doctors offer today:
- Screenings are X-ray examinations of the breast for women who do not have any breast cancer symptoms
- Diagnostic mammograms are used if irregularities are found in a screening mammogram or if there are noticeable breast issues that spark concern
- Digital mammograms use a combination of computer and imaging technologies to produce high quality images that can be manipulated in order to obtain an enhanced diagnosis
- 3D mammograms (Tomosynthesis) take images of thin slices of the breast from different angles to make sure all parts have been examined
Breasts are made up of fatty, fibrous and glandular tissues. While one may think dense means you have a lot of fat, actually dense breasts occur when you have very little amounts of fat but a lot of fibrous and glandular tissues. Dense breasts are more common in young women, but are also found in older women. Breast density is determined by the radiologist who reads the mammogram. New Jersey law requires the radiology reports to include information about breast density. This is because dense breasts make it more difficult for doctors to spot abnormalities on mammograms and therefore increases the risk of that woman getting cancer. Doctors who see reports of dense breasts need to follow up with their patients and decide if any additional screening tools are needed. The law also requires insurers to cover follow-up evaluations such as ultrasound or MRI in women with dense breasts.