Taking care of your health is an important part of living well. For every woman, and even some men, a regularly scheduled screening mammogram should be part of a preventive health plan, so deciding when to have your first mammogram and whether to repeat every year or every two years, is a topic you should discuss with your healthcare provider.

Why Mammograms are Important

In 1976, the American Cancer Society began recommending mammography to screen for breast cancer. According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, mortality from breast cancer declined 38% between 1989 and 2014. Much of that decline has been attributed to the use of mammography to discover breast cancer in the early stages when it’s easiest to treat.

When to Start Screening

In the past few years, the previously stable recommendation to begin screening mammograms at age 40, and repeat annually, has come into question. Seven highly respected organizations, including the American Cancer Society, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, disagree on when to start getting mammograms, and how often, but according to information put together by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), all agree that by age 50, annual or biennial screening mammograms are an important part of women’s health care.

Before you schedule that initial mammogram, do your research: what is your family history? Do you have close relatives who had breast cancer? If not, you and your doctor may decide that waiting until 45 or 50 is reasonable. On the other hand, if one or more close relatives have been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer, you may benefit from getting your first screening mammogram even earlier than age 40, the age generally recommended for women with average risk.

You can also find a lot of general information on the internet, including fact sheets and screening guidelines. Utilizing this information, your family history, your personal preference, and guidance from your personal physician, you should be able to come to a reasonable decision on when to have your first screening mammogram, and how often to repeat the procedure.

Where to go for a Mammogram

In deciding where to schedule your mammogram, it’s always a good choice to ask for a recommendation from the physician or group you trust with your overall health care. Today, many group medical practices offer screening mammography on site, and those that don’t will know which medical imaging services in the local area are the best. Another good source for recommendations is your circle of friends and family.

Deciding when, how often, and where to go for your mammograms is an important decision you should make with your physician, based on information about you, your family history, and what you have learned from the many quality information sources available to you.