The Best Time to Begin Screening Mammograms

August 12, 2019

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in U.S. women. Regular screening mammograms provide the best chance of detecting breast cancer when it’s small and most treatable. According to Onalisa Winblad, MD, director of breast imaging at The University of Kansas Health System, the best time to begin screening mammograms is at age 40.

“The risk of developing breast cancer significantly increases around age 40. In fact, 1 in 6 women diagnosed with breast cancer are in their 40s. Most of the years of life lost to breast cancer are from women ages 40-49. That’s why I recommend all women have a screening mammogram beginning at age 40,” she says.

Once a woman has a screening mammogram, she should have one every year. Dr. Winblad recommends all women have 3D mammograms, which are now covered by insurance providers in Kansas and Missouri.

“This is the most advanced technology we have for mammogram screening. 3D technology allows a radiologist to find more breast cancers on a mammogram. They also allow us to call fewer women back for extra imaging when it’s not necessary,” she says.

In addition to detecting breast cancer, screening mammograms can also determine if a woman has dense breast tissue. Breast density is determined by a radiologist on a screening mammogram. While it is completely normal, Dr. Winblad says women with dense breast tissue have a higher lifetime risk for developing breast cancer. It’s also more difficult to find breast cancer on a mammogram if a woman has dense breast tissue.

“About half of women in the United States have dense breast tissue. We offer supplemental screening exams for these women, such as screening breast ultrasound, breast MRI and a new exam called abbreviated breast MRI. This exam is much faster and cheaper than a traditional MRI. It’s ideal for women who have a high lifetime risk of breast cancer or women with dense breast tissue,” Dr. Winblad says.

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