For most women, who are not at especially high risk of breast cancer, regular mammograms can start at age 50. Or, to be cautious, a woman can get one mammogram earlier (around age 40 or 45) and then if it is normal, wait until she is 50 for her next mammogram.
Women at higher risk of breast cancer should not wait until they are 50 to have regular mammograms. Please remember that the higher age– 50– is only a guideline (not a strict rule) and only for screening women with no symptoms and not at high risk of breast cancer. If a woman finds a lump on her breast, a mammogram is still very important, regardless of the woman’s age. In addition, for a woman at high risk of breast cancer because of her family history or environmental exposures, regular screening before age 50, or even before age 40, may be a very good idea.
Most women who have a mother, sister, or grandmother who had breast cancer at the age of 50 or older, or who are at high risk of breast cancer because of obesity or other reasons, should have regular mammograms (every one or two years) starting at age 40. If their relatives had breast cancer at a young age, women need to consider mammograms even before age 40. Unfortunately, younger women tend to have denser breasts, which often look white on a mammogram. Since cancer also shows up as white, mammograms are less accurate for younger women (and other women with dense breasts). For those women, a breast MRI is especially likely to be more accurate than a mammogram, and they are safer than mammograms.