When should you get a mammogram?

07-12-2017 8:43 AM

Well, it depends on who you ask.

Not all organizations agree on the exact age to get a mammogram. Generally, it’s somewhere between the ages of 40 and 50 for women with an “average” risk.

Just a few days ago, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) released a bulletin to healthcare providers moving away from recommending an age for mammograms. Instead, ACOG recommends women and their doctors decide based on risk factors and risks.

The good news? You have more control than ever before about your healthcare. No one is telling you to get a mammogram at age 35 anymore.

The bad? You’ll need to pay closer attention to your body, research your options and risks, and communicate with your doctor at checkups and screenings.

I had my first mammogram in my early 20s. I remember driving to the facility, thinking “I can’t possibly have cancer. I’m way too young.”

Thankfully, that mammogram found nothing. But I continued to have cysts and lumps throughout my 20s.

I became well-acquainted with mammograms, ultrasounds, and needle biopsies. I got used to having a “gun” shoot a needle through my breast multiple times.

At the age of 29, just a few months before I got married, my surgeon suggested we take out the latest lump. He wanted to analyze the tissue and know what it was for sure. A needle biopsy only tells you so much, he said.

The result? My surgeon found precancerous cells.

His recommendation to me was to continue having regular screenings. Oh and to have a baby and breastfeed as soon as possible. Say what?! I had no idea that would lower my risk of breast cancer. I wasn’t in a hurry for kids, so I waited another four years. But I did breastfeed my babies.

Fast forward to the present — some 15 years later, all my mammograms have been normal. Until I began writing this article, I hadn’t even thought of telling my current doctor about my breast history. Those precancerous cells seem so long ago.

Hmm… maybe I should be more diligent about my own medical history.

Since I’m married to a physician, I asked him to help me come up with some tips on how to make the most of a doctor visit.

I hope you find them helpful.

Five Tips for Better Doctor Visits

  1. Keep track of your personal health history. As we move and change doctors frequently, health histories can be lost or just forgotten.

  2. Prepare for your healthcare visits. Think about your concerns and questions ahead of time. It will make your appointment a lot more productive.

  3. Know your risk factors. You can find the CDC’s list here. You’ll also find a good list in the ACOG bulletin.

  4. Become an empowered patient. Your doctor is still your best resource for determining your personal health plan. However, there’s more medical information at our fingertips than ever before. Educate yourself about options and new types of treatment. I think you’ll find it empowering.

  5. Know your body. Know your health. You know better than anyone when something is just not right. Find a doctor who listens and cares. Don’t be afraid to switch doctors or get a second opinion when necessary.

What are your tips for taking charge of your health? We’d love to hear them.

Stacy Graves is a contributing editor of The Mary Kay Foundation℠ blog and website. She’s worked in some type of communication role for Mary Kay Inc. or The Mary Kay Foundation℠ since 1994 — loving every minute. She’s passionate about everything Mary Kay. You can connect with her by her website or LinkedIn.