A few minutes spent getting a mammogram could just save your life. Mammography saves lives with a simple breast x-ray that helps detect cancer early, which experts agree, is the key to breast cancer survival.

A mammogram can be used either for screening or for diagnostic purposes:

  • Screening mammography finds breast cancer when it’s too small for you or your doctor to feel.
  • Diagnostic mammography checks out a problem you’ve already noticed, such as a breast lump, breast pain or nipple discharge. A diagnostic mammogram is also performed when a woman has an abnormal screening mammogram that requires further investigation.

Mammogram Screening Recommendations

Beginning at age 19, women should develop a routine to perform self-breast exams and have a physical exam by a doctor annually to detect potentially cancerous lumps.

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)
  • Women ages 40 to 74 should get mammograms every year.
  • Women 75 and older should continue to get screened if they are in good health and are expected to live 10 or more years.

Following a mammogram, you may receive a letter notifying you that you have dense breasts. This means you have more fibrous or glandular tissue than fat. This is more common in young women. Women with dense breasts have a modestly elevated risk for breast cancer. It is important to discuss your results and family history with your doctor to determine appropriate screening measures.

If you have a family history of breast cancer, you should start annual screening mammograms before you reach age 40. 

Recent advancements in test methods, such as 3D mammography, ultrasound or breast MRI, provide additional benefits for women with dense breast tissue or a family history of breast cancer. To find out if your risk means you could benefit from one of these additional tests, talk with your Mercy OB/GYN.

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