Dr. Anjali Bhandarkar

Experts from Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital are ready to answer readers’ questions. Send your questions to askthedoc@rwjbh.org.

Should I get a mammogram?

This month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a month dedicated to educating people about breast cancer and the importance of early detection. Did you know that one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetime, making it the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women?

While survivorship is increasing—a fact which is largely attributed to secondary treatment advances, earlier detection through screening and increased awareness, the American Cancer Society estimates 252,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S. in 2017, which is why maintaining breast health is so critically important for women.

Finding breast cancer early is the main goal of routine breast care and maintaining good breast health. That’s why it’s so important to follow your doctor’s plan for preventive care. Finding problems early gives you the best chance of successful treatment.

But when should you start breast screenings, particularly mammography screenings? Generally, it is recommended that you get bilateral screening mammograms annually beginning at age 40 or 50 based on personal preference and discussions with your physician as long as you are not considered high risk for breast cancer. As your age increases, the incidence of breast cancer increases and mammograms are considered the gold standard for screening for breast cancer. However, in addition to mammograms, there are a number of different ways that you can get screened for breast cancer. The types of breast cancer screening include:

Physical exams by your doctors.

Mammography, or x-rays used to create images of the breast.

MRI, primarily used in newly diagnosed breast cancer patients for staging and planning and not currently recommended for screening average risk patients. MRI is used for patients that are deemed high risk—those with genetic mutations, significant family history, etc.

It is important to note that all things that can be found in the breasts during a screening are not cancer. Routine care can also help find other noncancerous or benign conditions, too. There are many signs and symptoms that women associate with breast cancer but are in fact something different. If you are interested in learning more about breast health and how to stay vigilant, make an appointment with your primary care provider to discuss.

—Dr. Anjali Bhandarkar, Internal Medicine, Women’s Health RWJ Medical Associates

This content is intended to encourage a healthy lifestyle. For medical advice and treatment, see a physician. Concerned about your health? Send your questions to askthedoc@rwjbh.org. Visit rwjbh.org.