If my family has a history of breast cancer, when do I need to get a mammogram?

Originally Published: October 10, 1997 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: July 25, 2008
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Dear Alice,

If there is a strong family history of breast cancer in the family on the mother's side (including the mother), then how often should the daughters get mammograms and when should they start?

Dear Reader,

It is excellent that you are aware of your family history and breast health. According to both the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a woman under 40 years of age with at least one risk factor for breast cancer is recommended to seek medical advice about whether they need a mammogram. A risk factor would include a family history of breast cancer, i.e. a mother, sister, or daughter, or at least two close relatives with a history of breast cancer.

Although you mentioned that you have first-degree relatives with a history of breast cancer, your health care provider needs more information from you before deciding whether or not a screening mammogram is necessary. If you do require a mammogram, then your health care provider would determine when you need to have your first mammogram and how often you need to have one thereafter (such as every six months or every two years). The ACS also recommends that women under 40 have a regular clinical breast exam (CBE) by a health care provider at least once every three years.

You can contact the following organizations for more information about breast cancer and mammography screening guidelines:

Whether or not you need a mammography screening, do a regular breast self-exam to become familiar with what's normal for your breasts, so that you can be able to detect changes, if any. Examine both breasts every month, five to seven days after your menstrual cycle. Contact one of the organizations listed above to learn how to do a breast self-exam. Or try reading one of the following questions for more information: Breast lump, Mammogram, and Breast cancer gene?. You may also want to talk with your regular health care provider about your concerns and gain some peace of mind.

Alice