The next time you schedule a mammogram, there’s more to consider than just fitting your annual snapshot between the dog’s vaccinations and visits from the in-laws. For premenopausal women who undergo regular screening, mammograms are most accurate if done during the first week of your menstrual cycle. (Hint: Your cycle begins on the first day of your period.)
There are a couple of reasons why your mammogram may be most sensitive during this time, says Diana L. Miglioretti, PhD, senior investigator at the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle. First, research shows that breast tissue may appear less “dense” during the first half of the cycle. Both dense breast tissue and cancers appear white on a mammogram, so dense areas can mask tumors and make them more difficult to detect.
For premenopausal women who undergo regular screening, mammograms are most accurate if done during the first week of your menstrual cycle.
Second, breasts may be less tender during the first week of your cycle. Later in the cycle, breasts often become enlarged with fluid and may be sore or tender, making it more difficult to compress them for the mammogram. Not only is it more comfortable to have a mammogram during week one, but it’s easier to compress the breasts, increasing the ability of the mammogram to detect cancer.
Richard Mintzer, MD, a nationally renowned mammographer and staff radiologist at NorthShore Imaging Centers in Chicago, agrees. “Compression successfully eliminates motion, reduces radiation dose and reduces overlap of tissues. Therefore, obtaining the mammogram early in the cycle is considered desirable.”
The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends yearly mammograms starting at age 40 and continuing for as long as a woman is in good health. The ACS recommends clinical breast exam (by your doctor) about every 3 years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and over.
Remember: you should know how your breasts normally look and feel. Report any breast change promptly to your doctor. Talk with your doctor about your history and whether you should have additional screening tests at an earlier age.