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What age should you get your first mammogram? Cleveland Clinic gives advice

The magic age of when to get your first mammogram depends on a lot of varying risk factors. Here's how to tell if you need to advocate for early screening.

CLEVELAND — As every doctor will tell you, health screenings can save lives. Just recently, our own Danielle Wiggins shared how self-exams and getting her mammogram as soon as she turned 40 detected breast cancer. She caught it early and has a positive prognosis after surgery, but some recommendations can be confusing. 

As part of our "Do It For Danielle" campaign, we're clearing up some misconceptions.

“Research has continually shown that early detection is the best defense against breast cancer,” says Dr. Rachel Kaczynski, a breast surgical oncologist with the Cleveland Clinic.

RELATED: The healing journey after breast cancer: 3News' Danielle Wiggins and writer Regina Brett on coping and asking for help

Catching cancer early sets up a better chance to fight it. But conflicting information may have some women confused about what age to get that first mammogram.

“Cleveland Clinic recommends that all women get screened starting at the age of 40 with annual screening mammograms unless there's a significant risk,” says Kaczynski.

Those risks include:

  • Family history of breast cancer in first, second or third degree relatives.
  • Family history of ovarian or pancreatic cancer. 
  • Any history of breast cancer in a family member younger than 50.

RELATED: The importance of self-exams: 'Do It For Danielle' breast cancer conversation with writer Regina Brett

Another red flag, which ended up being one for Danielle Wiggins, is any family history of prostate cancer.

If you are a woman who had biopsies of breast tissue and it came back with the word "atypia," you also need a more aggressive screening program.

“There are certain populations of patients who are at higher risk for cancer in younger ages. The African-American population is one of those and also Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry is important,” says Kaczynski.

Anyone who falls into those categories should ask their doctor about a mammogram before age 40.

If you’d like to calculate your risk, you can do that at bcrisktool.cancer.gov.

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