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Mammograms - What Age & How Often?

Breast cancer is now a well-known topic of conversation among women. With that said, at what age should a woman consider starting mammogram testing, and how often should the test be done?

I was 38 when I had my first mammogram, and I swore that I would never go back for another one. After my anatomy had been pulled on and stretched by the technician, and then flattened by the x-ray machine, I was convinced in my mind that if I had not been at risk before I went for the test, that surely I was afterwards! I have had mammograms since, and the technology has improved over time, but still they are no picnic.

Recommendations
This is how some organizations broke down their analysis:

1. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology updated their recommendation:
Previously: advised women to get the test every one to two years in their 40ís, and then yearly starting in their 50ís.

Currently: advised women at average risk for breast cancer to get a mammogram every year beginning at 40. (This is 10 years younger with a test each year).

2. The American Cancer Society and the American College of Radiology recommend annual mammograms starting at age 40 for women of average risk.

3. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is the government's independent panel of preventive-health experts. Their guidelines suggest average-risk women from 50 to 74 years of age can be screened every other year. For women in their 40's, it had previously been the same. However, younger women sometimes have what is known as false-positive readings, which have resulted in unnecessary biopsies leaving scars and scar tissue. Add to that the extra expense, not to mention the worry of thinking that you may have the disease. Because of this, they recommend that younger women weigh the pros and cons of screening if they are not high risk.

Risk Factors
Women considered at high risk for breast cancer include those with a known genetic mutation, a very strong family history for it, and even a history of radiation to the chest area.

Breast Density
Another high-risk factor is breast density, and this does not include fatty tissue. Research has shown that risk is four times as great among women with denser breasts, which reasons are not completely understood. If you are concerned and want to know, then make an appointment with your doctor for what is called a baseline mammogram. Also have them do the density test, and the gene mutation test, and get those two high-risk factor issues resolved. That way, you will find out if you are, or are not, high risk in these areas.

In this study, women with lower-density breasts could wait until they were 50 to begin screening.

When it comes to breast density, common sense tells me that a low-fat diet would be very beneficial, along with avoiding drinks that contain caffeine. Too much caffeine can cause a fibrocystic breast condition.

Better Equipment
Experts agree that mammograms save lives, even though screening poses a small risk. The good news is that better equipment is evolving daily to provide optimal digitized mammography, which will give physicians greater picture definition, so that hopefully, false-positives will be a thing of the past.

Self-Exams
These organizations are realizing too, that each personís body is unique. That means that we, as individuals need to do our part in prevention. We can do self-exams, and eat healthy low-fat diets. Decide if you are high-density or low-density. Medical websites have "how-to" do your own self exam, and I've seen videos, as well.

Keep a Record
No matter what age you are, keeping a journal of your diet, as well as breast exams might be a good idea. This kind of puts you in the driver's seat and lends to a feeling of being in control, which is a huge positive when it comes to healthcare.

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