Young Women and Breast Imaging

Young Women and Breast Imaging

The most important thing to know about young women and breast imaging is: if you have any worrisome changes (feel a lump, skin texture change, pain, inverting nipple, etc) you CAN and should come in for evaluation. Although breast cancer is rare in younger women, it does occur and early detection saves lives.

Never let anyone tell you that you’re too young to take care of yourself! Schedule a visit with a doctor as the first step is a careful clinical breast exam. If the breast exam is normal and you are still concerned, ask for breast imaging or get a second opinion. Remember many changes in young breasts will turn out to be from benign, noncancerous conditions, like breast cysts, but the only way to know for sure is to get evaluated!

Got it? Ok! Now, on with the details…

There are a few times when younger women should come in for imaging of the breast. These include:

  • experiencing changes in the breast

  • being in a high risk category

  • history of chest radiation (from treatment for Hodgkins Lymphoma, for example)

Because younger women (let’s say less than 30) tend to have dense breasts, mammograms are often the second choice for imaging. Usually, a breast ultrasound comes first and may be the only test needed. Ultrasound may be followed by a mammogram if indicated by what is seen on the ultrasound. Breast MRIs can also be used in some cases, for problem solving after other tests or for screening in high risk groups.

The most common reason a young woman would come in for a breast screening is because of a high lifetime risk of breast cancer. Your lifetime risk can be calculated by tools like the Gail risk score. This is a tool which takes into account known risks like family history of cancers and menstrual/childbirth history. Women at greater than 20 percent average lifetime risk of invasive breast cancer are recommended to have screening breast MRIs yearly.

To summarize: yes, younger women can and often do need breast imaging. Yes, there are options in addition to traditional mammography. And yes, fortunately, the chances for needing to come in are low. But if you have reason to be concerned, come in and have a radiologist put you on the path to your best possible health!




Originally published 6/5/13 on