Mammogram Screening Guidelines Including When and How Often

Guidelines According to the American Cancer Society

Doctor Discussing X-Rays with Middle Aged Woman
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A screening mammogram is an x-ray of the breast used to detect breast changes in women who have no signs or symptoms of breast cancer, like a palpable lump. While mammograms should be part of every woman's preventive healthcare, many women are unsure of when they need to start breast cancer screening and how often. 

Let's address this question so you can continue being proactive in your breast health.

 

Guidelines on Breast Cancer Screening

The question of when a women should be screened for breast cancer with a mammogram is not as straightforward as screening for other types of cancer. For one, different medical professional societies have slightly different guidelines on when to initiate screening and how often to undergo screening. This is based on how they interpret the scientific data on breast cancer — it's a gray area, meaning they are multiple ways to look at the results of breast cancer studies. 

Secondly, a woman's individual risk factors, like her family history, genetic mutations, or any history of abnormal breast biopsies, will affect the timing of when, how often, and what type of breast cancer screening she should undergo. For instance, a woman with a significant family history of breast cancer may need a breast MRI in addition to a mammogram during screening and may need to start screening earlier.

The take home message here is that your doctor is the person who can answer the question of when you should undergo a mammogram. It's a unique decision, so it's not going to be the same for every woman.

That being said, let's take a closer look at what the American Cancer Society recommends for initiating breast cancer screening in the average, healthy woman.

 

American Cancer Society Guidelines for Breast Cancer Screening

The American Cancer Society, or ACS, recommends that women ages 40 to 44 have the choice to begin yearly breast cancer screenings with a mammogram. In other words, a woman should carefully discuss the risks versus benefits of undergoing a mammogram with her doctor. For example, an obvious benefit of undergoing screening is that breast cancer may be detected early. A potential risk is a false positive test — a test that shows a suspicious finding for breast cancer that is really non-cancerous. This may require an unnecessary breast biopsy. 

According to the ACS, women ages 45 to 54 should undergo a mammogram every year. Women aged 55 and older can undergo a mammogram every year or switch to every two years — again, this would be something to discuss carefully with your doctor. Screening should continue for as long as a woman is in good health.

Guidelines from Other Professional Societies

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, or ACOG, recommends a mammogram beginning at age 40 and yearly after that.

Another group, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Services, or USPTF, recommends screening every two years starting at age 50. USPTF states that women can discuss starting screening earlier with their physicians, after weighing the harm versus benefit of undergoing a mammogram. 

The USPTF also adds that a woman with a parent, sibling, or child with breast cancer may benefit from starting screening between the ages of 40 and 49 — since this puts them at higher risk. 

What Does This Mean for Me?

Speak with your doctor about when the best time is for you to undergo breast cancer screening. Remain an advocate for your breast health. Early detection is key to breast cancer survival. 

Sources:

American Cancer Society. (2015). American Cancer Society Guidelines for the Early Detection of Cancer. Retrieved December 21st 2015.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2015). ACOG Practice Advisory on Breast Cancer Screening. Retrieved December 21st 2015. 

DISCLAIMER: The information in this site is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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