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The Who, What, When, Where, and Why of Mammograms

Posted: 10/15/2021
The Who, What, When, Where, and Why of Mammograms

Mammograms are an essential tool in the early detection and prevention of breast cancer. A mammogram is the best way to discover breast cancer early, and it is the only way to detect lumps or masses that are too small to be felt. Mammograms are the most effective tool at our disposal for detecting and treating breast cancers early. Here are a few things you need to know about mammograms.

Who Should Get a Mammogram?

The American Cancer Society recommends all women aged 45-55 and those of average risk for breast cancer receive a screening mammogram every year and at least once every other year after age 55. They also recommend some women of moderate risk can elect to begin getting mammograms at age 40. Women at high risk should get a screening mammogram every year. Women who are at increased risk for breast cancer can include any of the following: 

  • Those with a family history of breast cancer

  • Those with a personal history of breast cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS), atypical ductal hyperplasia (ADH), or atypical lobular hyperplasia (ALH)

  • Those who had radiation therapy on their chest between 10 and 30 years of age

  • Those with a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation

  • Those who have not had genetic testing themselves but have a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) with a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation

  • Those with Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Cowden syndrome, or Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome or have first-degree relatives with one of these syndromes


What is a Mammogram?

There are several different mammograms, but a mammogram is essentially an x-ray of the breast to detect tumors and abnormalities that could be cancerous. Today, almost all mammography done in the United States is digital instead of conventional, or film, mammography. With conventional mammography, the breast image was saved on film. With digital mammography, the digital image is saved as a computer file, allowing doctors to share the file or access it remotely, making it faster and easier to diagnose the image. In addition to regular digital mammography, which produces a two-dimensional image of the breast, 3-D mammography or tomosynthesis is now available. 3-D mammography uses low-dose x-rays to take multiple breast images at different angles and uses special software to put them together into a 3-D image. The 3-D images are believed to be superior to those from a traditional digital image which, it is hoped, will help catch more cancers and reduce unnecessary biopsies and follow-ups. 

Moreover, a recent study suggests that about half of women who routinely get mammograms haven't heard of the term "baseline mammogram," a recent study suggests. So, what is a baseline mammogram? Simply put, it's a person's first mammogram. There are several things that a breast radiologist looks for when interpreting a mammogram, including an interval change in the appearance of the breasts since prior mammograms. So, once a baseline mammogram is taken, it then serves as a comparison for any subsequent exam. 

When to Get a Mammogram?

The risk for breast cancer increases with age, with over 89% of new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in women aged 45 and older. The recommendation was for all women to have a baseline mammogram at age 35 and begin yearly mammographic screening at age 40. However, the American College of Radiology, Society of Breast Imaging, American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommend that all women have a baseline screening mammogram at age 40 and then screen annually. For women with a strong family history of breast cancer, history of radiation therapy to the chest, or known genetic mutation, screening may begin at an earlier age, and they should consult with their physician.

The CDC has different recommendations on screening for women aged 40-49 with average risk, women aged 50 to 74 years with average risk, women aged 75 years or older with average risk, and women with dense breasts. To view the complete recommendations, visit their website

The American Cancer Society also recommends scheduling your mammogram for about a week after your menstrual period, if possible. Mammograms can be uncomfortable and sometimes painful. Your breasts will be less swollen and tender a week after your menstrual period, which means less pain and discomfort during the mammogram.

Where to get a Mammogram?

The Breast Center at ImageCare can perform digital mammography, 3-D mammography (tomosynthesis), ultrasound, MRI-guided biopsy, and more. They have two convenient locations in Latham and Clifton Park. Our breast center radiologists are sub-specialized in breast imaging, meaning they are dedicated to breast cancer prevention in our community. Talk to your doctor about where to schedule your next screening mammogram.


The Breast Center at ImageCare - Latham
711 Troy-Schenectady Road, Suite 120
Latham, NY 12110
Latham, NY 12110
Phone: (518) 786-1600
The Breast Center at ImageCare - Clifton Park
1783 Route 9, Suite 104
Clifton Park, NY 12065
Phone: (518) 836-2428
ImageCare Guilderland (Screening Only)
3757 Carman Road, Suite 102
Schenectady, NY 12303
Phone: (518) 881-1188
ImageCare Saratoga (Screening Only)
One West Avenue, Suite 140
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
Phone: (518) 584-5000
ImageCare Balltown (Screening Only)
2546 Balltown Road, Suite 100
Schenectady, NY 12309
Phone: (518) 372-1344

Why Get a Mammogram?

Mammograms save lives. Mammography is the most effective tool available today for screening to find breast cancer. Mammography correctly detects 87% of women who have breast cancer that would otherwise go undiagnosed. Breast Cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, combined with the increased risk after age 45. The overall effectiveness of mammograms is why every woman over 45 should get a yearly mammogram and why every woman over 40 should consider getting a screening mammogram every year.

Not all mammograms are routine screenings. If you or your doctor feel a lump, notice any change in the appearance or feel of your breasts, talk to your doctor about getting a diagnostic mammogram. Symptoms such as changes in breast size and shape, a lump in the breast, swelling in the armpit, pain or swelling of the breast, nipple changes or discharge, and certain high-risk factors may be a reason for your doctor to recommend a diagnostic mammogram.

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