If I have lumpy breasts, should I start getting mammograms at an earlier age?
Nope, not necessarily. Women with lumpy breasts don’t have a higher risk of breast cancer, so there’s no reason to suggest earlier screening. The technical term for lumpy breasts is “fibrocystic breasts,” and the lumps are nodules of fibrous tissue or cysts that form in response to fluctuating hormones. These lumps, which more than 50 percent of women have, may feel tender, and they tend to change in size throughout your menstrual cycle.
If you have fibrocystic breasts, be sure to perform monthly self-exams and keep track of how your breasts normally feel so you don’t miss something that may actually be cancer. Anything that doesn’t feel right—like a new lump that sticks around or a thickening or new firmness in an existing lump—should be investigated by your doctor right away.
Otherwise, when to start screening is a big decision (and a hot-button issue). The latest guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force say that the decision to begin routine screening before age 50 (for women not at high risk) is one that women should make for themselves, in discussion with their doctor, by weighing their family history, tolerance for risk and other factors. But many organizations, including The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, say that every woman should get an annual or biannual mammogram beginning at age 40. Personally, I advise patients to look closely at their specific health history with their doctors and begin screening when it makes sense for them.
Health‘s medical editor, Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, is assistant professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine and co-founder of Tula Skincare.