• Mayo Clinic Minute: Do mammograms work?

Do I need to get screening mammograms, and, if so, how often should I get them? That's a question many women ask. Dr. Karthik Ghosh, director of the Mayo Clinic Breast Diagnostic Clinic, says mammograms are an essential tool for the early detection of breast cancer. The tests are not perfect, but they help diagnose cancer early ─ while it's still curable.

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Screening mammography helps diagnose breast cancer early. But who should get the test?

Dr. Ghosh says, “Currently, mammograms are the best available screening tool for women in the average risk population. Our recommendation is that women 40 and older consider yearly screening mammography.”

Women should know the risks and benefits of mammography. The big benefit is early detection of cancer. Risks include getting called back to get a closer look at tissue, which can cause anxiety. And mammograms may miss cancer in women with dense breasts, because cancer and breast tissue both appear white.

“There could be areas of that tumor hiding within the dense tissue. So, for women who have dense breasts, it is important to understand that there are additional tests. We call it supplemental screening.”

Supplemental screening tools include 3-D mammography, also called tomosynthesis, molecular breast imaging, and MRI. Supplemental tests are particularly important for women at high risk and those who test positive for the BRCA 1 or 2 genes. Dr. Ghosh says all women should talk to their health care providers about the screening that’s best for them, because screening saves lives.

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