Breast cancer runs in my family. At what age should I start getting mammograms, and how often?

Breast cancer runs in my family. At what age should I start getting mammograms, and how often?

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Elizabeth Ricanati, M.D.
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Elizabeth Ricanati, M.D.

Elizabeth Ricanati, M.D., is the founding medical director of Lifestyle 180, an innovative Cleveland Clinic program aimed at treating and... Read more

We all know someone with breast cancer, be it a friend, colleague or family member. The good news is that screening is easy and readily available, and it can be lifesaving, especially for women whose breast cancers are detected and treated early. The rule of thumb for women who have breast cancer in a first-degree relative (that’s your mom, sister or your own children) is to get screened 10 years before the age of onset in that relative, or by age 40, and then every year after that. I recommend discussing all screening options with your physician to figure out which approach is best for you and your health. The most routinely used screening method for breast cancer is a mammogram, which involves taking a low-dose X-ray image of the breast to look for abnormalities. Two other imaging options that are not as commonly used, but that your doctor may also recommend, are breast ultrasound (a radiation-free technique that uses sound waves to produce images) or an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), which uses magnets and radio waves to create cross-sectional images of the breasts. Twice yearly physical breast exams done by your physician, along with a monthly breast self-exam, are also recommended for certain high-risk women.

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