Breast Cancer Awareness Month: When should a woman go for mammograms?

Breast cancer is one of the leading causes of death for women around the world. But there are some preventive measures that can extend their life, and regular screening is one of them.

A mammogram is a standard approach for screening breast cancer. According to Dr Madhuri Burande Laha, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, Motherhood Hospital, Kharadi, Pune, the right age for women to go for mammograms varies. According to some research, it is recommended to do it in your 30s and some others suggest it is ideal to get it done before the age of 45.

“Screening mammograms can detect breast cancer early, and it should begin at the age of 40. The findings of randomized trials involving women in their 40s and 50s show that screening mammograms reduce the risk of breast cancer deaths,” says the doctor, adding that mammogram screening is not without defects. “Another study found that even though mammogram screening has resulted in more early breast cancer diagnoses, the number of advanced breast cancers has not decreased.”

Dr Laha explains that doctors are unable to predict which breast cancers will spread beyond the breast and which will remain contained. As a result, annual mammograms are considered best for detecting cancer early, increasing the chances of curing and lowering the risk of death.

“The main issue with mammograms for breast cancer screening is the possibility of a false-positive result. This means that something unusual has been detected, but further testing reveals it is not cancer. False positives are more common in 40s and 50s,” she adds.

Are women under the age of 40 at risk of breast cancer?

“Younger women, in general, do not believe they are at risk of breast cancer. Breast cancer, on the other hand, can strike at any age. Women under the age of 40 account for 5 per cent of all breast cancer cases. All women should be aware of their personal breast cancer risk factors.”

If breast cancer does develop, early detection and treatment can significantly improve chances of survival. (Photo: Getty/Thinkstock)

Measures that all women can take to reduce their risk of breast cancer:

– Obtaining and maintaining a healthy body weight.
– Consuming alcohol in moderate amounts.
– Regular physical activity.
– Breastfeeding.

“If breast cancer does develop, early detection and treatment can significantly improve chances of survival. More than 90 per cent with early-stage breast cancer survive,” says the doctor.

Young women should be counselled and encouraged to report any breast changes to their healthcare provider, such as:

. Lumps
. Nipple discharge
. Pain in a specific location
. Changes in skin

And, should women under 40 have mammograms?

“In general, screening mammograms are not advised for women under the age of 40. Screening can begin at 25 for women with genetic mutations, and screening is often initiated 10 years before the first affected relative in the family with a history of breast cancer. Breast MRI is frequently recommended in addition to mammography for high-risk women,” Dr Laha concludes.

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