Mammograms: What You Need to Know

Who Needs a Mammogram?

If you are a woman age 40 or older and in good health, you should have a mammogram every year, according to the American Cancer Society.

Recent evidence confirms that mammograms offer substantial benefits for women starting in their 40s.

It is important to recognize that mammograms do have limitations and will miss some cancers. Despite this, they remain the most effective and valuable tool for decreasing suffering and death from breast cancer.

The American Cancer Society also recommends taking the following steps for early detection of breast cancer:

  • Having a clinical breast exam as part of a periodic health exam, about every three years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and over.
  • Being familiar with how your breasts normally look and feel and reporting any breast changes promptly to your doctor. In addition, breast self-exam is an option for women starting in their 20s.

Schedule your mammogram with Fletcher Allen: request an appointment online or call 802-847-2446.

What if I am at high-risk for breast cancer?

If you are at high-risk for breast cancer – defined as a greater than 20 percent lifetime risk – the American Cancer Society recommends having a breast MRI along with a mammogram every year. Determining when to start these screenings should be a joint decision between you and your doctor.

If you are at moderately increased risk – defined as a 15 percent to 20 percent lifetime risk – you should talk with your doctor about the pros and cons of adding breast MRI screening to your annual mammogram. Yearly breast MRI screenings are not recommended for women with a lifetime risk below 15 percent.

Your risk for breast cancer can be determined by your doctor based on your family history, past radiation therapy, breast density and other factors.  Women who have a breast cancer gene mutation (known as a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation) are at greatly increased risk. Gene mutations can be detected through genetic testing. 

The Familial Cancer Program at Fletcher Allen and the University of Vermont provides a wide range of services for patients with a family history of cancer, including risk assessment and information and counseling about genetic testing. To contact the program, call (802) 847-4495.

Early Detection is Your Best Protection

One of the keys to the increasing breast cancer survival rate is early detection. Of women whose breast cancer is detected in its earliest stages, 96% have at least a five-year survival rate. It is so important for every woman to follow these screening guidelines:

  • Despite recent controversy, Fletcher Allen continues to recommend breast screening according to the American Cancer Society Screening Guidelines. See the link below for more detailed information regarding mammography, breast self exam and other screening methods.
  • Fletcher Allen recommends annual screening mammography for all women beginning at age 40 and continuing as long as a woman remains in good health. Risks and benefits should be discussed by a woman with her physician or health care provider.
  • Women who are at increased risk based on family history or prior history of radiation treatment for certain cancers should have MRI in addition to mammography annually. Every woman should be aware of her breast cancer risk. Screening methods vary by risk. Consult your physician for your individual assessment of risk.
  • If you might be at increased risk, consult with the High-Risk Breast Program at Fletcher Allen Health Care.