Mammograms Before Age 50

Deciding whether to start having mammograms before age 50 if you don't have risk factors can be difficult and confusing. There isn't a right or wrong answer about screening — the decision to start having mammograms is yours.

We encourage you to read the following information about mammograms and talk to your doctor if you have any questions.

Things to consider:

Issue What to think about
Screening mammograms may reduce breast cancer deaths, but screening can also be harmful Research shows that screening mammograms reduce deaths from breast cancer. They reduce more deaths in women aged 50-74 than in women aged 40-49.

In women 40-49:
•Without screening, 3.5 of 1,000 will die of breast cancer over the next 10 years.
•With screening, 3.0 of 1,000 will die of breast cancer over the next 10 years.

There are possible harms with screening, such as exposure to radiation and unncessary follow-up tests. For women in their 40s, the risk of harm may be greater than the small change of benefit from screening.
Finding breast cancer may not improve health or help a women live longer. Breast cancers in younger women tend to be more aggressive and fast-growing. Screening may not help if this type of cancer is found.
Diagnosing cancers that may never be life-threatening. Some types of breast cancers cause no symptoms and some are not life-threatening.

Screening may lead to unnecessary treatment of a cancer that wouldn't cause symptoms or become life-threatening during a women's lifetime. Treating these types of cancers can cause serious side effects.

At this time, mammograms can't tell which cancers will cause symptoms and which cancers will not.
Test results in younger women can be less accurate. Screening mammograms are not always accurate. Sometimes the results look as if there is cancer when there isn't (false-positive result). This may lead to unncessary folow-up tests like biopsy and more imaging. False-positive results are more common for women aged 40-49.

Our online tool also can help you understand your options and how you feel about screening:
When Should I Start Having Mammograms?

If You Choose to Have Mammograms

Screening mammograms are covered by your preventive services care benefit as outline in your coverage agreement.

Call one of Group Health's mammogram locations to schedule an appointment. Saturday appointments also are available at each location once a month.
Mammogram Locations

You can schedule online if you have registered on this website and get care at a Group Health clinic.
Personal Online Services


Clinical review by Janet Chestnut, MD
Group Health
Reviewed 05/03/2012
Mammogram Questions?
See Tool for Women 40-49

The information in the center column helps you determine when to start mammogram screening.

If you want more help in considering your options, try our interactive tool.
When Should I Start Having Mammograms?