New messages from Aflac | View Notifications opens a dialog Close X dismisses the notification alert

When Should You Get a Mammogram?

At age 40, you may want to consider getting your first mammogram. Doctors use mammograms to check the breast for abnormalities, making them vital to breast cancer screenings and diagnoses. Fortunately, many types of breast cancer are highly treatable, especially with early diagnosis. Mammograms can often detect potential issues before symptoms appear.

You don’t need symptoms or any family history of breast cancer to receive screenings. While routine cancer screenings may be a source of anxiety, mammograms are quick, safe, and essential for your overall health. By better understanding mammograms, you could make an informed decision about incorporating them into your medical life.

Peace of mind doesn't
have to break the bank

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Help cover yourself and your family with affordable coverage from Aflac.

Learn More

How does a mammogram work?

A mammogram works by using a special low-dose X-ray machine to scan breast tissue for abnormalities. Mammogram machines include two metal plates that flatten the breast, which spreads the dense breast tissue out. It’s easier for X-rays to scan the compressed tissue, so mammograms can use a smaller dose of radiation than a standard X-ray to produce a quality image. Standard mammograms take scans from two different angles (up-and-down and side-to-side).1

Doctors may also use three-dimensional (3D) mammograms. Instead of scanning the breast in only two angles, 3D mammograms take many low-dose X-rays in an arc around the breast. These types of mammograms create a more dimensional image of the breast tissue for doctors and may be especially useful for people with dense breast tissue.

Mammograms identify abnormalities in breast tissue so doctors and patients can proceed with more diagnostic tests. An irregularity on a mammogram doesn’t mean you certainly have breast cancer. However, it’s essential to follow up with continued diagnostic tests following abnormalities. Types of breast tissue changes that a mammogram may identify include:2

  • Asymmetry between breasts
  • Masses, both noncancerous and cancerous
  • Calcification or hardening
  • Various distortions

After you reach a certain age, mammograms become a vital tool for monitoring your health and living your best life.

When should you start getting breast cancer screenings?

People with an average risk of breast cancer should begin getting screenings in their 40s. The risk of getting this type of cancer increases as you get older, so regular screenings become more important. The United States Preventive Services Task Force (UPSTF) findings recommend regular mammograms starting around age 40 to improve early detection.3

While breast cancer is still rare in younger people, cases in that population are on the rise. Plus, some studies suggest that new mammograms may be more accurate for younger patients, limiting false positives.4

If you have a high risk for breast cancer, you may want to start receiving mammograms before age 40. Some risk factors include:2

  • History of breast cancer in your immediate family, including parents or siblings
  • Presence of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations, which are linked with breast cancer
  • Past occurrences of breast cancer
  • Radiation therapy to the chest between the ages of 10 and 30
  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Cowden syndrome, or Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome

Breast cancer screening recommendations

Following recommended breast cancer screening guidelines could help you quickly detect any signs of cancer and access any treatment you may need. The American Cancer Society recommends annual mammograms through age 54. After age 55, the recommendation changes to every other year, as long as you’re otherwise healthy and expect to live for another decade or more.5

If you have any signs of breast cancer, you should undergo a diagnostic mammogram. Symptoms that may sometimes point to breast cancer include the following:6

  • Changes in the size or shape of the breasts that are unexplained, especially uneven swelling or shrinking
  • Dimples on the breast
  • An inverted nipple
  • Changes in skin texture anywhere on the breast, especially sudden scaliness, ridges, or redness
  • Consistent pain or tenderness in a specific spot on the breast or breasts without any other explanation
  • Unexplained lump in breast or underarm
  • Unexplained nipple discharge

These changes could have several possible causes. A diagnostic mammogram is the first step in identifying the root of those symptoms and beginning treatment.

Pros and cons of mammograms

Here are some benefits and drawbacks of mammograms that you should be aware of:

Pro: Can detect breast cancer early

Mammograms could detect some breast cancers when they’re still too small for you or your doctor to feel during a breast exam. When you and your doctor detect cancer early, treatment may be easier. Early detection may reduce the risk of passing away from breast cancer by up to 30%.7

Pro: The process is quick and safe

Mammograms take about 30 minutes. Many people only experience some discomfort while their breasts are compressed. However, you could take an over-the-counter pain reliever before or after the mammogram to manage discomfort.

Mammograms expose you to minimal amounts of radiation. The average person in the United States is exposed to around 3.0 millisieverts (the standard unit for measuring radiation) of radiation in a year from the world around them. The standard radiation dose for a mammogram of both breasts is only a fraction of that figure, at .4 millisieverts.2

Pro: Can help give you peace of mind

Even if you don’t have an increased risk for breast cancer, regular screenings could help ease anxiety about the disease. A regular mammogram offers reassurance about your breast health. If any abnormalities do arise, regular mammograms could help you address them quickly. Many breast cancers are highly treatable, and early detection could make a big difference in outcomes.

Con: Potential false positives

Mammograms can detect abnormalities but can’t always determine whether cancer is the cause. A screening may produce abnormal results in patients without cancer. If you receive a false positive, you might have to continue taking tests like biopsies, ultrasounds, or another mammogram.

Con: Overdiagnosis

Some types of cancers found in the breast never spread or grow and don’t pose any health issues. However, mammograms can’t identify what kind of breast cancer they detect. If they detect a harmless breast cancer, you may receive treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery that aren’t necessary for your well-being. This phenomenon is called overdiagnosis.

Aflac cancer insurance helps cover the cost of preventative procedures

With regular mammograms, you could take a proactive approach to your healthcare. They could help you quickly identify abnormalities in your breast tissue, so you could begin the diagnostic process and receive treatment as soon as possible. While routine mammograms may cause a little discomfort, they can help provide you and your loved ones with peace of mind.

If you're at a higher-than-average risk of developing breast cancer, you may want to consider cancer insurance. Please click here to learn more about Aflac's cancer insurance. Aflac coverage can also help you cover necessary expenses like rent or groceries if you need to take tome off form work while undergoing treatment. For more information, contact an agent today for a quote.

Still have questions?

Explore your cancer insurance options.

Learn More