Mammogram Guidelines: FAQ
Q. Should I be concerned about the radiation from mammograms?
Not really. The amount of radiation you get from one mammogram is equal to what you're exposed to while flying on an airplane from Houston to Paris and back, Bevers notes. "It also takes 100 mammograms to equal the amount of radiation in one CT scan," she says.
Q. I have a family history of breast cancer. Do any of the guidelines we're talking about apply to me?
No. These guidelines are for women with an average risk of breast cancer. If you have a family history of the disease, a BRCA gene mutation, or other risk factors -- like being exposed to radiation as a child -- then you're at higher risk. Talk to your doctor for guidance on when and how often to get checked. You may even need to start before age 40, Citrin says.
The "rules" about when to get a mammogram also no longer apply if you find a lump in your breast, says Citrin, who's the author of Knowledge Is Power: What Every Woman Should Know About Breast Cancer. If you see or feel anything that’s not normal for you, then you need a mammogram ASAP to find out what it is. Many lumps are not breast cancer, but you can’t tell for sure by how it feels.
Q. No one in my family has ever had breast cancer. Why should I bother getting checked at any age?
Because if you have breasts, you can get breast cancer. "Eighty-five percent of all breast cancers are not related to a specific gene mutation," Citrin says. He adds that women who get regular mammograms are 20% less likely to die of breast cancer. "It may be uncomfortable, even painful, to do this every year or two, but it's worth it."