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"When should I start getting regular mammograms?"


Don't have health insurance, but breast cancer runs in my family, so I'm nervous about it. I'm 21 now, when should I start getting mammograms regularly?


I commend you for taking an active role in your health. The answer to your question depends on multiple factors. It is very important to make an appointment with your primary care doctor or gynecologist who is aware of your medical history, your family history and various other risk factors to determine the best plan of action for you.

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For most women, mammograms are not recommended until a woman is age 40 or above. However, in those with a first degree relative with breast cancer (mother or sister), screening is usually started 10 years before the age that the family member was diagnosed. Mammograms are not as useful in younger women because their breast tissue is often too dense to accurately visualize worrisome changes in the breast. Depending on your risk level, sometimes MRI is used as a screening tool. Yearly breast exams are important as well. Due to your family history it is important that you control other risk factors that are in your control which have been shown to be linked to breast cancer: do not smoke, exercise regularly, and eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables. Again, please make an appointment with your primary care doctor to discuss your concerns and develop the appropriate course of action.

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